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The Green Life: A Word With Your Boss

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May 29, 2008

A Word With Your Boss

Each Thursday The Green Life will be featuring a question and answer session from our very own Mr. Green. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Green,  he was managing editor and book review editor of Sierra magazine for many years, and now writes Sierra's popular "Hey Mr. Green" environmental advice column. He has also just published Hey Mr. Green: Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy Tackles Your Toughest Green Living Questions.

Our question for today is from Allen in Houston, TX, who asks, "I am urging my employer to participate in a paper-recycling program. Can you tell me how many trees would be saved by recycling a 30-gallon bin of paper?"

Mr. Green answers:

As teenagers, my buddy Gordo and I whacked scads of innocent trees with our trusty McCullough chainsaw and shipped them to the mill in Dubuque. So toiling to answer this sort of question is a penance for such sins. Better to do it now than to stew in a vat of boiling pulp in the hereafter, taunted by environmental sermons blaring through raspy amplifiers. Anyway, a 30-gallon bin will generally hold around 80 pounds of computer paper, or up to 100 pounds if the paper is tightly packed.

A typical tree used for pulp yields about 83 pounds of office paper, meaning your bin would essentially hold the equivalent of one tree. Since 10 to 25 percent of the mass gets lost in the paper-recycling process, you might not rescue a whole tree each time you fill a bin, but it's safe to say at least three-fourths of a tree could be saved per container. Now if you throw in a lot of crumpled paper that takes up extra space, you'll obviously fall short of that noble goal.

Of course, trees come in various sizes, and some species yield more pulp than others, so these are ballpark figures. Remember too that all paper is not created equal: Virgin office paper requires twice as much pulp per pound as virgin newsprint. But any way you slice it, recycling paper saves a lot of trees.

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