Hopefully not, at least in the sense that students having the option will presumably continue to attend law school or pursue other educational opportunities. Probably not, in that we may any day soon realize the ellusive “paperless office”. In recent decades, per capita paper use has increased at roughly three times the rate of population growth. But, when looking at the question of how we might satisfy our demand for paper without bankrupting the biosphere, there are hopeful signs that we won’t have to chase down the paper fiber equivalent of the last passenger pigeon.
One such sign is posted in a display case in Luther Bonney Lobby. Printed on recycled paper, a full-color poster declares that unless people “complete the recycling loop” by buying products made with recycled materials, recycling alone won’t accomplish much. A student noted that the poster makes an important point – if there is no market for products made with recycled materials, what good does it do to recycle last semester’s calculus notes (never looking at THOSE again)? Without market demand for recycled-content products there won’t be a market for the paper we so carefully recycle. Back to the poster: the medium of the message, the post-consumer (PC) recycled fiber content of the poster itself, may be an even more promising indicator that our paper chase is at least slowing down.
USM students, staff, faculty and administrators are buying and using products with post-consumer fiber content all over campus-napkins at Aramark, 100% PC copy paper in Central Supply, Criminology and ESP, Facilities buys PC recycled bathroom tissue, department offices buy recycled content manila envelopes, and the Muskie School’s most recently published book, aptly titled Changing Maine, was printed on paper that contains 10% post-consumer fiber.
These changes aren’t “just happening.” Individual decisions by real people are making this change possible. Professor Richard Barringer requested that the book he introduced and edited be printed on recycled paper. Administrator Robert Smith had to evaluate dozens of options before purchasing USM’s first pallet load of 100% PC xerographic copy paper. Al Johnson keeps a little mercury out of Maine’s fish by asking for “recycled” when it comes time to re-supply bathroom tissue. Brian Wiacek and Chris Kinney specify “recycled, unbleached” and fewer dioxins are created as a result of our use of paper napkins. USM student John McQuire joins millions of students world-wide when he buys a recycled content yellow pad.
Just as scrap aluminum is a better, lower-cost source of new aluminum than the raw bauxite beneath shrinking rain forests in South America, scrap paper is a lower-cost source of raw material than Maine’s young trees. When recycled into recyclable products which are, in turn, recycled, paper fibers might make six value-added trips through our economy before becoming too short to be reused for paper. What does this mean for Maine?
Even if paper fibers only regularly made four trips through a paper mill, all else remaining the same, this would mean 75 percent fewer trees would need to be cut for pulp. New jobs and paper pulp can come from “forests” of recycled paper. This would leave Maine with older, healthier forests containing more trees that could offer higher-value uses such as saw logs, aquifer recharge, older-growth wildlife habitat, erosion control, recreation, and tourism.
The end of the paper chase is in your hands right now. Quite literally. After carefully reading the fine articles of the Free Press, if you recycle this paper, you will help keep Maine’s forests growing and the Maine economy going. And the next time you buy a paper product please check to see if you’re recycling efforts are making a difference. How can you tell? The product will indicate that it “contains post-consumer recycled content.” The more the merrier.