who is being ‘greenwashed’?

As a society that has been taught to recycle, Britain’s inhabitants obediently sift through the glass, plastic and cardboard we throw away and place it in its rightful bin. We do this to save the world, of course. And the same can be said of paper and printing; we take heed of the warnings at the bottom of our emails which suggest our environment will suffer if we print anything on real paper, and keep everything electronic. We have stopped writing and started emailing and texting as a nation. Love letters are becoming non-existent, as is our handwriting. The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the Qwerty keyboard is quickly becoming the mightiest of all. And we do this – we sacrifice our Parker Fountain Pens and our Moleskine journals for the clicking of keyboards and tapping of touch screens – all to save our beautiful Earth from Global Warming. How much do we actually know about paper and printing?

Avoiding a science lecture, the basic reason for not printing and using recycled paper is to save a tree and to prevent the release of greenhouse gases when paper is buried in landfill. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released a new file format (creatively named the .wwf file) along with the phrase “save as wwf, save a tree” for the documents available to download on the website. This format, which cannot be printed easily, accompanied the organisation’s claims that printing is responsible for valuable tree habitats such as rainforests being destroyed, this being the reason why we should never ever print anything. Naturally, a wall of objections has risen to meet the WWF’s accusations, and at the top are the Friends of Print and Paper organisation, known as FOPAP. They believe that printing should be encouraged, and they say if we listen to them we could end the Global Warming crisis in a century…

FOPAP argue that if we seal paper away at the bottom of landfill sites, it doesn’t decompose and release the greenhouse gases that are causing Global Warming. Their studies have shown that paper which has been underground in air-tight conditions for up to 50 years has barely changed form, the print actually trapping the carbon and other gases inside the material. They suggest that if the UK recognised the vast amounts of paper lurking at the bottom of these sites as a way of preventing the escape of greenhouse gases, it could offset these numbers against its carbon footprint, reducing it and encouraging more countries to do the same.

Landfill isn’t where FOPAP stop. They believe that we should be chopping down trees, and lots of them. And, of course, replanting the ones that are felled. This, they say, is because as a tree grows older it is much like a human; it eats less, breathes less and has less of an impact on the environment; a mature tree will no longer take enough carbon dioxide from the air to help our fight against Global Warming. A young sapling, however, will consume much more carbon dioxide than its older generations just as a small child eats, breathes and runs around much more than an adult. FOPAP suggest that this continuous replacement of the old with the new helps us to reduce the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, leading us on a path closer to carbon neutrality.

Recycling paper has been effectively promoted by Britain, but if FOPAP win people over to their way of thinking, it could result in a backlash of criticism about other materials such as plastic and glass. The controversial statements made by FOPAP are the first of their kind and John Roche, the founder of the organisation, says: “There will be political challenges to overcome. There always is. There will be corporate challenges to overcome. This goes without saying. There will be scientific challenges to overcome. We have the talent to fight this.” He believes FOPAP are right, and wants others to join his fight against paper recycling…

I am among those told that recycling is an absolute. What do you think?

Rosie x

Arts Co-ordinator

Visit www.fopap.org to explore this controversial alternative to recycling.

I would love to know what you think about this take – please comment below if you have anything to add to the debate.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Chipp says:

    There is a lyric in song that states ‘misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction’.

    You put forward the argument that rotting paper creates greenhouse gases and therefore if it is buried in anoxic conditions (to avoid the rotting), all will be well. How many land fill sites do you envisage being especially constructed to cope with paper? The sites would have to be completely water tight as well. As an ex geologist I know how these sights can be constructed but I also know that they could never be totally water/air tight. How long can you guarantee the chosen sites will remain stable? And when you’ve filled all the landfills what then?

    Are you really saying that rotting paper is more of an issue than deforestation? Are you really arguing that it is better to bury your rubbish than to reduce, re-use and recycle?

    You also promote the idea that older trees draw down less carbon dioxide than younger trees due to growth rate. A young sapling will NOT consume much more carbon dioxide than its older generations just as a small child eats, breathes and runs around much more than an adult. Count the leaves! Look at the plate sizes. Trees will reach a threshold where it takes more carbon dioxide but not for many years.
    And what species are you referring to? Are you comparing an oak with a pine tree? Are you just talking about pine trees? Does a giant red wood draw down less carbon dioxide than a sapling sycamore? Cut down the older trees and plant new (presumably fast growing pine) ones! Yes (heavy sarcasm ensues) lets have the trees all of the same canopy height thus removing important habitats for many animals that live at different heights and let less light onto the forest floor. Let’s have all the same sort of trees so we not only lose biodiversity and habitat but also create a monoculture all susceptible to the same disease and pest infestation. (Further to that when you plant the trees in lines the rain water falls in channels creating further erosion of the soils (just one of the many problems with plantations.)

    Sudden removal of trees means that rain water impacts with greater force on the land. This removes material i.e. top soil. As well as having (the hopefully obvious) effect of removing soil for other plants to grow in, the removed material ends up in rivers and lakes thus increasing the turbidity in these environments with dire consequences for yet another ecosystem. As with any crop that is harvested, the trees take the nutrients that were in the soil with them when they are cut down. After a while you will have to use NPK fertilisers to be able to grow your saplings. The process of making these fertilisers uses a great deal of fossil fuels therefore making the whole process unsustainable – but hey, you’ll be alright in the short term.

    Recycling paper is not the most efficient of such processes but it does empower and encourage people to do something about the environment. It makes people aware of the problems that humanity is facing and perhaps leads them to think of ways of reducing the amount of waste they generate. Surely this is a good thing. The World will survive global warming just as it always has. People may not. For the sake of my children and humanity as a whole I shall continue to be as green as I possibly can.

    It is not a case of paper against electronic either, it is consumerism in general. People still update their printers, mobiles, to get the latest, best, quickest. Take only what you need. As the bee goes from flower to flower taking only what it needs, so should the wise man move through the world. It saddens me that there are people who will dedicate there efforts to a cause that promotes and encourages the use of paper. Is there not enough junk mail that comes through the post? Perhaps your efforts would be better put to use in trying to eliminate these for instance. You can’t just take an uninformed, narrow snapshot, the whole problem needs a many faceted approach.

    1. Judge says:

      Thank you for crafting a reply with better quality than the original post. Glad I read on without leaving the page solely on the inane perspective of the blogger.

  2. ednabag says:

    Now then, ‘ere we ‘ave a prime greenwash response.
    Now forget the arguements abouts recycled V virgin and lets instead look at the damage emdia is doing.
    How good of you Mark to try and devalue the paper v electronic arguement because thats exactly what it is.
    For years the general publics ‘as been lied too.
    You can worship your mobiles, and banana e phones but lets get this straight.
    To produce a mobile with a life span of 18 months, the amount of energy produced to make is never offset through use. We then have the issue of disposing of said item, 14% of which is recyclable, (unlike paper, which is also a sustainable resorce made by nature), the rest is heavy metals and short resource. Rather than dismantle these here, they are shipped to places such as asia and Nigeria where they along with othe hardware they dismantled by kids, who are exposed to high levels of cancerous products and toxins. So on that level alone feel to smug about good old non toxic papers.
    Now then young Mark lets have a quick think on landfill for hardware, is it or has it ever been grown by nature? No its manmade, therefore degradation of some plastics used will take place yet unfortunatley, the plastic remains as a toxic molecule which never goes away. Ask a marine biologist what effect this has of habitats of marine life, just for a start.
    Also virgin paper is a prooduct of a managed and sustainable natural resource, at least its CO2 benefit exists, last time I thought on this recycled past its first reincarnation, didn’t even have some CO2 removal benefit, Oh and also it had the unfortunate effect of needing yet more power to recycle and use it again.
    Paper isn’t like anything else glass ect, it is quite at home back in the ground and will eventually rot after some 100+ years or so, don’t takes my word fer it, ‘as a look elsewheres for guys that have researched this subject.
    Now for WWF. The message they put out re un printable PDF was screwed up, they themselves admitted this and Geneva told the Germans it was to be a german only sight. The original script was changed (twice) and watered down. WWF found the whole incident embarassing. Rain forest and ancient forest have nothing to do with paper production in europe.
    Rain forest timber being predominantly hardwoods is not good for paper, which is better made with fast growing soft woods.be asked to research landfills and instead made bad assumptions and mislead people into bad gas theory created by paper degradation. Ermmm no this isn’t the case, methane is released but at very low levels over many, many years. If you read WWF site carefully they do make a 3rd party disclaimer.
    WWF tried to cover its arse wiv’ Euroflower, who unfortunatley could not.
    So now lets go back to emedia.
    Mark can you explain why something manmade, that eats huge amounts of power (US uses 30% more energy which is likely emedia). Powers an electric kettle for every search. In one US state search barns accounts for 50% of power output, which happens to be coal fired.
    The WWF claims that non printable pdf saves trees, yet its doesn’t say it saves power and increase emissions, rather than email a pdf for reading print the thing off and cut down the power bill and furthermore save it for another day, or give it yer mate.
    Please instead of claiming a natural resource is greenwash lets think harder and dig deeper. The truth behind any long term propaganda which we have all been told, especially around paper and recycling is only for one reason PROFIT.
    When you have spent as much time reviewing supposed reports you realise two things.
    a) the report always reflects the interest of those paying the bills, the latest on the Iraq invasion demonstartes this very well. The report was skewed to give the wanted result.
    b) the parties preaching the propaganda (like recycled paper) are in it for profit, the banks want online transaction for profits. Every mail pack there don’t send saves them approx 48p, multiply that by account holders and work out the profits for yourselves. Are you seeing benefit?
    I won’t even go into climate change, read it yourself, the original predictions of temperature increase is claimed to be wrong the new models show increase in temperature of 5-5.8 degrees, before the end of the century. So how pretending new tech will save your ass, won’t wash.
    Just who are the greenwashers? and why, its not for your benefit.

  3. Mick says:

    Some interesting thoughts. To put some of them in perspective though, surely the data being researched now on landfill , stating 50 year closure, cannot be from modern, dry landfill can it? I have read elsewhere that some of the older landfill remaining intact is in fact quite wet, and it is the absence of oxygen in the ‘mix’ (and therefore bacteria) that prevents degradation of paper/carbon.

    In the case of tree usage, fully grown trees do not absorb CO2, this in unarguable, and in fact, past maturity many emit more than they absorb, as a result of foliage and branch shed, and internal breakdown (hollow trees?) – well managed fast grown plantations not only capture far more CO2 than mature forest, but even properly managed ancient deciduous woodland can capture many tonnes per acre, about half that of fast growing plantation wood, but many times that of unmanaged ‘wild’ old woodland.

    Paper is not made from hardwood, definitely not from tropical hardwood – the cellulose fibres are too short and brittle – so please don’t believe that paper production leads to loss of rainforest, it doesn’t. However there are plantations in tropical regions, of many types, and schemes such as FSC and PEFC manage any wood produced properly from these regions. The pulp used for paper manufacture in Europe, from where nearly all UK paper comes, is from Europe. European paper production does NOT threaten rainforest.

    New research of EU paper mills (as yet unpublished, so treat this as you like) shows recycled paper manufacture to have up to DOUBLE the CO2 emissions of virgin paper.

    Paper manufacture world wide accounts for a lot of wood use. Enough in fact to offset way more than the Carbon output of all wood related industry several times over, and, in fact, enough to offset 15% of all CURRENT total woldwide emissions made by industry. If we didn’t recycle 60% of all paper, as we do currently, this would increase by 250% to 37.5% (do the sums yourself – this is not greenwash, it is simple fact!)

    “The World will survive global warming just as it always has.”

    This is true. But it will be without mankind, and a lot of other land mammals, another unarguable fact. Why would you allow that to happen unnecessarily, when it is mankind that has accelerated global warming to the levels we see today?

    Now, whilst I completely agree with your comments about consumerism in general – wouldn’t it be better if everyone was allowed to see the facts for themselves, and not assume, as you have done, that everything you are doing is right, even there is no scientific evidence to support it?

    I have young children, and within their lifetimes it is highly likely that if they are able to survive, being the lucky ones in the north of the planet, they will suffer the consequences of us doing nothing now. Personally I don’t want them to look back and think ‘why was my dad such an arrogant *** that he did nothing to even try to make things better?’. I particularly wouldn’t want them to think that I put the lives of Pandas and industry moguls before the lives of millions of children already dying within my own lifetime.

  4. John Roche says:

    Hello Mark

    Just to take up a few of your points:

    “There is a lyric in song that states ‘misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction’. “
    You could not have summed up the politics surrounding paper recycling any better.

    “How many land fill sites do you envisage being especially constructed to cope with paper?”
    There are no special construction requirements. Regular landfill will do. Paper is already routinely separated from other organic waste as it actually slows down the decomposition of this other waste matter, which is encouraged by landfill owners to rot as quickly as possible in order to capture the methane content for use as energy as quickly as is commercially possible.

    “The sites would have to be completely water tight as well.”
    They are not required to be watertight. In Australia a team of scientists lead by Dr. Fabiano Ximenes retrieved what they described as ‘carbon sludge’ from landfill. It was actually extremely saturated paper and still contained the majority of its original carbon content, even though it was no longer recognisable as paper.

    “How long can you guarantee the chosen sites will remain stable? And when you’ve filled all the landfills what then? “
    When a landfill site becomes full it is capped to ensure that any remaining methane gas that has not already been extracted for energy, can be. Once these gases are no longer detected, the site is usually reclaimed as land and often built upon or turned into grasslands or parks. We have lots of photographs of old landfill sites, if you would care to see some.

    “Are you really saying that rotting paper is more of an issue than deforestation? Are you really arguing that it is better to bury your rubbish than to reduce, re-use and recycle? “
    We are not saying that rotting paper is more of an issue than deforestation, as we don’t actually know what you mean by that statement. That paper does not decompose as quickly as is commonly assumed is a fact. That forested areas in Europe are growing rapidly is a fact. In other parts of the world, rainforests are being felled for farmland, or are simply dying due to climate change and global warming, none of which has anything to do with rotting paper.

    “You also promote the idea that older trees draw down less carbon dioxide than younger trees due to growth rate. A young sapling will NOT consume much more carbon dioxide than its older generations just as a small child eats, breathes and runs around much more than an adult. Count the leaves! Look at the plate sizes. Trees will reach a threshold where it takes more carbon dioxide but not for many years.”
    Unless you are saying that trees are capable of growing indefinitely, it is a fact that they consume more CO2 when they are growing than when they reach maturity. When they are fully gown, they have no further use for CO2 aside from growing foliage, such as leaves. But the more leaves a tree grows in Spring, the more will fall off in the Autumn and decompose releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere.

    “And what species are you referring to? Are you comparing an oak with a pine tree?”
    It is irrelevant. Trees are stores for carbon. So is paper in landfill. Is there more room above ground or below it? Your arguments for habitats are valid enough, but what about the human race, what about our habitat, and our future?

    “Sudden removal of trees means that rain water impacts with greater force on the land.”
    No one is advocating the sudden and unexpected wholesale removal of trees as a species, not least in their wild forms of woodlands and rainforest. What we are advocating is the use of trees from managed farms that are planted specifically for the paper making industry. Our argument is that instead of recycling the paper once it is used, we should be planting and replacing more trees to allow the used stock to be buried underground in landfill sites, where the carbon in it will remain for many centuries.

    “Recycling paper is not the most efficient of such processes but it does empower and encourage people to do something about the environment.”
    Yes, generally speaking the act of recycling is always good. However, the act of recycling paper is an exception to this. Industrial scale paper recycling is actually a very efficient process, but recycled paper has the disadvantage of not being buried underground immediately to lock up its carbon.

    “For the sake of my children and humanity as a whole I shall continue to be as green as I possibly can.”
    I have children too. I would not be fighting this corner if I did not believe with all my heart that it was truly worth fighting for.

    “It saddens me that there are people who will dedicate there efforts to a cause that promotes and encourages the use of paper.”
    It equally saddens me that the human race has become so brainwashed with political sound-bites, that it cannot muster the energy and courage to look deeper and discover the truth for themselves.

    “You can’t just take an uninformed, narrow snapshot, the whole problem needs a many faceted approach.”
    I agree. Our efforts are just a single strand of a very complex, and likely undefeatable battle against global climate change, but I for one am not willing to give up the fight simply because it does not fit neatly into a brainwashed way of thinking and a spirit-stifling political box.

  5. ednabag says:

    So if the WWF is snow white, why has a guy from FOSS created this blog and taken the time to add in links proving the point.
    Its times many woke up to the real greenwashers, students could do better than take time to research who advises and them read deep.
    Im ain’t no propagandist but I’s shocked and saddened by just how far the blind lead the policy making blind. The route of it all is sponsorship cash for a PR stunt.
    How does WWF fund itself? Who are the funder’s? check for yourselves.

  6. ednabag says:

    Mark still think trees are an issue, did you bother to watch this or is it also propaganda?
    The rivers are dead and bubble with toxic shite.
    The land and people are polluted and poisoned, recycling is such a great and non corrupt thing, fast buck wins over life.
    Jut how much more is there sitting there? Didn’t even touch mobiles and computer gear.
    In our blindness and vanity we have ignored the real damage and conned ourselves.

    http://www.tv-replay.co.uk/16-05-11/panorama-bbc-1-bbc-iplayer-93659.html

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