Pulp and paper companies acquire huge tracks of land for timber... and operate large mills to turn that timber into paper. Unfortunately, land acquisition can violate the rights of indigenous peoples and rural populations and paper mills can pollute their local communities.
It is a sad fact that paper and pulp companies often gain access to land without the full and informed consent of local communities or indigenous peoples that live on the land. Indigenous peoples, including the Haida and the Grassy Narrows First Nation in Canada, the Penan in Malaysia, the Udege in Russia, the Sami in Finland and the Maori in New Zealand are all struggling to fight abuses by the paper and pulp industry.
Some of the most egregious land violations are taking place in Indonesia where villagers have been forced off their land and their resistance movements have been violently repressed by the government.
For families that are forced off their land but remain in the region, they are often subject to toxic runoff from the dangerous chemical pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on fiber plantations.
When local populations are unjustly pushed off their land, they lose their livelihoods and are exposed to health risks.
The process of paper production uses toxic chemicals for pulping and bleaching paper. Unfortunately these processes release toxic pollutants into the environment and harm the well being of paper company workers and people downstream from the mills.
Even though elemental chlorine is rarely used for bleaching these days, the use of any chlorine-based chemicals (including chlorine-dioxide) can release some of the most toxic compounds on earth.
These pollutants cause cancer, lung disease, heart disease, immune system damage, nerve disorders, fertility problems and skin diseases.
The Community-Protecting Alternative: Recycled Paper
Recycled paper relies on post-consumer and post-industrial fiber, not fresh trees. By choosing recycled paper, you avoid some of the negative social impacts associated with illegal and unethical land acquisition by paper and pulp companies.
Furthermore, producing recycled paper in paper mills is far less polluting than manufacturing virgin paper. Ton for ton, virgin paper production discharges thousands of gallons more waste water than producing recycled paper. Also, producing recycled paper requires far less bleaching than producing paper from fresh trees, which means that fewer toxic chlorine-based chemicals get emitted into the environment.