How much paper does a tree produce

Our paper: We have a problem - and we can solve it

Germany's paper consumption is top! But unfortunately that's not good news. Because the wood from tens of thousands of trees is needed for our daily needs.

Whether for printing or writing, for exercise books and books, newspapers and packaging, as a toilet and kitchen roll: about every fifth tree that is felled ends up as paper - many of them grew in tropical rainforest countries.
There are two ways to change that: use recycled paper and use less paper! Each of us can do that!

Most important facts
  • What do we need paper for?
  • How much paper do we use?
  • What is paper made of?
  • Where does the raw material for our paper come from?
  • Why is recycled paper so much better?

Good to know: Our paper in figures and pictures

11 times around the world -

that is (at the equator) 440,825 kilometers. The stack of paper would be this high if we imagined our entire annual consumption as A4 sheets.

This is how we calculated:

A package with 500 sheets weighs 2.5 kilograms and is 5.5 centimeters high. In 2018, we used a total of 20,064,000 tons of paper in Germany.
20,064,000 t: 0.0025 t = 8,025,600,000 parcels x 5.5 cm = 441,408 kilometers.
Incidentally, that is even further than from the earth to the moon - that would be "only" 385,400 kilometers!

As tall as a giraffe

is roughly the pile of A4 paper that each of us uses annually: 5.31 meters - that's 241.7 kilos per person (source: Federal Government).
We are thus leading the G20 countries, the 20 most important industrial and emerging countries in the world. India brings up the rear with just 13 kilos per person.

Per capita consumption - do we all use the same amount?

That is the total consumption divided by the number of inhabitants, that was a total of 82.7 million people in Germany in 2018.
The per capita consumption is of course only an arithmetical average. Because not everyone uses the same amount of writing paper, books, toilet paper or cardboard boxes. For example, no baby needs copy paper. And of course there are also companies or institutions that need a lot more of a certain type of paper than a family household. These include, for example, hospitals and old people's homes, which require much more tissue paper than an individual. The same applies to authorities and their consumption of copy paper. Or for companies that package and export goods.

How many trees do we use exactly?

This question is asked over and over again - and there are different numbers for it. In purely mathematical terms, we would all use the wood from around 59,500 trees in Germany - every day! This number results from the mean yield of spruce and eucalyptus wood, which is very different. Both tree species play the main roles in papermaking.

And so we did the math:

2.2 kg of wood are required to produce 1 kg of paper.
A eucalyptus tree (25 high, 40 cm diameter) has 3,265.6 kg of wood.
A spruce tree of the same size has only 1,475.8 kilos of wood (source: Oro Verde).

Paper consumption in Germany in 2018: 20,064,000 tons = 54,970 tons per day.
That would be 37,049 eucalyptus trees or 81,989 spruce trees. If you add both and divide by 2, one obtains the mean value of 59,519 trees.

This number is only theoretical. Because more than half of our paper consumption (59 percent) comes from waste paper. However, this is very different: Packaging is made almost entirely from waste paper, while toilet paper, exercise books and notepads are far less.
Of course, old paper was also fresh paper and was made from wood. But it can be recycled many, many times. New studies show: even up to 25 times!
So it is difficult to calculate our consumption in trees exactly. One thing is certain: when we buy recycled paper, we are helping to preserve nature. In Europe and in the rainforest countries!

 

Every fifth tree felled becomes paper

- and how is the paper made?

Paper is made from wood fibers. They are obtained either from fresh wood or from waste paper (see recycled paper further down on this page).
To make paper, the wood is first made of pulp: Remove the bark and chop the wood into small cutlets. They are then boiled in sulphurous lye or acid to loosen the fibers from the wood. In the end, the result is so-called “wood-free paper” that does not yellow. The word is misleading because wood-free paper is also made from trees.

The manufacturing process leaves huge footprints

Paper is (mostly) only used for a short time - but the environmental impact is huge: Because the production costs enormous amounts of wood, energy and water.
The paper industry in Germany is the third largest energy consumer after the chemical and metal industries. Manufacturing a ton of virgin fiber paper consumes just as much energy as a ton of steel.

Where does the wood for our paper come from?

A small part comes from Germany
Less than a fifth of the wood we use for our paper consumption comes from German forests. Whole tree trunks and waste from sawmills are mainly used for the pulp.

 

A large part comes from Scandinavia
More than 80 percent of the wood required for our paper comes from forests and tree plantations in other countries - both as finished paper and as pulp, which is further processed here. Especially Sweden and Finland supply not only pulp but also finished paper products.
The problem: The forests there are mostly huge so-called economic forests made of pine and spruce that are cleared for the timber harvest. So no suitable and undisturbed habitat for wild animals such as brown bears, lynxes, elk and many others.
On top of that, Russia exported its wood on a large scale to Scandinavia, especially to neighboring Finland. Often from illegally cleared forests.

The lion's share of the pulp comes from South America
Brazil is by far the most important pulp supplier for the German market - with 900,000 tons in 2019. Also Uruguay delivers a good 200,000 tons of pulp to Germany every year.
Most of the South American pulp comes from huge eucalyptus plantations - and it covers an insane long distance to our paper mills: up to 11,000 kilometers!

Brazil: "We can't eat eucalyptus"

“They came to Espirito Santo many, many years ago - and then they gradually turned our country into a green desert where only eucalyptus grows. There is no life here, no hope - nothing ", tells Joel in a video interview. Joel is one of the indigenous Tupinikim who live in southeastern Brazil. Where the Atlantic coastal rainforest once spread - to the north and south and far inland. All that remains are small forest areas. The Mata Atlântica, as this coastal forest on the Atlantic is called, has been largely dismembered and destroyed in the last few decades.

These plantations are green deserts

The pulp companies need a lot of land for their huge tree plantations. For this, indigenous people and small farmers were driven out, their arable land and jungle trees had to give way to eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus is ideal for making pulp. This type of tree grows particularly quickly, after about six years its wood is already making money.
"We used to live from the forest", says Joel, “have also grown fruits, vegetables, beans and rice in small fields. When the eucalyptus came, there were only monotonous deserts. But we can't eat eucalyptus! "
Today, Brazil is the world's second largest producer of cellulose (after the USA). The huge eucalyptus plantations were expanded more and more - In the meantime, only this one type of tree grows on a total of 57,000 square kilometers. It is as if all of Lower Saxony and half of the neighboring state of Saxony-Anhalt were planted with eucalyptus.

Most of the wood goes to the pulp and paper industry

"The plantation companies claim to plant eucalyptus mainly on depleted land," writes the Global Forest Coalition. “But land that was previously used for cattle breeding and other agricultural purposes in the Atlantic coastal forest can recover well. And for the most part, forests can grow back on the soil without any action on our part. But if eucalyptus is planted there, it is almost impossible to restore the original forest. And besides: Besides eucalyptus trees, no other plants thrive. "
There are no more clear cuts for the huge plantations today. Nevertheless, rainforest and areas of the cerrado, the largest and most biodiverse savannah on earth, are being destroyed for tree plantations.
Mainly, however, the eucalyptus companies use former cattle pastures and agricultural land on which small farmers and indigenous communities grow their food. Many have been driven out or their land has been bought from them with false promises. As a result, there are numerous serious conflicts between the population and the powerful corporations.

"We live here in the middle of the eucalyptus plantations",

tells the former smallholder Lucinete in a video interview. “There is no more water that you can use. We have no more plants, no birds, all the riches that we have received from nature are over. There is nothing left. We still live here because we have nowhere else to go. "
There are also hardly any jobs that companies promise people. Everything is done by machine - one machine can do the work of 30 men, says Lucinete.
Eucalyptus also needs a lot of water - vital water that humans lack. In addition, the plantations are treated with a lot of fertilizer and poison against unwanted plants and insects that contaminate the soil and water of the neighboring communities.
The big pulp companies say that most of their tree plantations have sustainability seals. In this way, nature would be spared. But the people who are losing their land and livelihood to eucalyptus plantations are asking themselves:
How can you say that you are doing something for nature conservation, if you use poison, if you destroy biodiversity, if you destroy life. Not only that of animals and plants, but also that of people? How can these huge plantations of identical trees from the gene laboratory be given a green seal? "
Eucalyptus plantations are not forests, even if they consist of millions of trees. No plants, no wild animals can survive here. Tree plantations are green, but they have absolutely nothing in common with the rich nature in Brazil, where there are so many different and unique animal and plant species than anywhere else on earth: in the Amazon rainforest, in the cerrado, in the Atlantic coastal rainforest.
You can also read who lives there on our Brazil page.

Swell:
World Rainforest Movement
Global Forest Coalition
Video interviews: Voices from Latin America against the green deserts
IBA (Brazilian Paper Industry)

What do we need paper for?

Life without paper? You can't even imagine. We use and consume paper every day - for books and magazines, for copying and as a notepad. And of course for toilet paper and handkerchiefs. And most of it now for packaging.
Our paper consumption has been about the same for years - despite the computer. E-mails have replaced letters and digital media have replaced a large part of newspapers - but packaging for mass online orders and to-go cardboard dishes have caught up to such an extent that one can get dizzy!

We mainly need paper for:

 

1. Packaging

For what? All paper, cardboard and cardboard that is used for packaging.
How much? 120 kilos per person and year = 50 percent of the total paper consumption.
Main reasons for the increase:
"The share of paper, cardboard and cardboard packaging has grown by 540 percent since 1996," says Almut Reichart, an expert on the pulp and paper industry at the Federal Environment Agency. Paper cups and plates for take-away meals are responsible for this increase. Packaging in the food sector and especially the increased online trade. In addition to the large number of parcels and parcels, it is also important that cardboard boxes are sent in standard sizes and the packaging is therefore larger than necessary.
The good news: Packaging papers are made almost entirely from waste paper. That saves a lot of wood, water, energy and chemicals. More on this under recycled paper further down on this page.
The bad news: The rapid increase in consumption.

 

2. Graphic papers

For what? All papers that can be written on and printed on: office and copier paper, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, books, exercise books, pads, calendars, posters.
How much? 90 kilos per person and year = 37 percent of the total paper consumption.
Consumption has been falling since 2007. One of the main reasons: newspapers and books are increasingly read online and digitally. Even the thick catalogs from the past hardly exist anymore.
One problem, however, are the free advertising slips and weekly papers
that end up in our mailboxes without being asked - despite stickers: no advertising please. What you can do about it is at the bottom of this page under the title: And you can do that (penultimate tip).

The good news: Newspapers are made entirely from waste paper in Germany.
The bad news:
1. The largest proportion (65%) of paper for offices, schools and administration is made from virgin fibers.
2. Around a third of our books are in China made - China is by far the largest paper producer in the world. And the pulp for this paper also comes from Indonesia. In the Southeast Asian country, the paper and pulp industry has been cutting down rainforests for decades in order to plant huge acacia plantations. The hotspot is the island of Sumatra. Not only are the habitats of the last orangutans, forest elephants, tigers and rhinos destroyed there forever. People are also threatened and often driven from their land by force.

 

3. Hygiene papers

For what? Toilet paper, kitchen rolls, handkerchiefs, napkins, cosmetic tissues, diapers, sanitary towels.
How much? 19 kilos per person and year = 8 percent of total consumption.
In the last 20 years our consumption has increased by more than half! Why?
Because, for example, more and more toilet paper with 4 layers is being bought. In the past, 2 layers were normal, or 3-layer rolls. And, for example, many more kitchen rolls are used; in the past one used rags that could be washed.
The bad news: More and more people are now buying hygiene paper made from fresh fibers instead of recycled products. Only half are made from recycled paper. This mainly affects private households. The use of waste paper would be particularly important for nature here: While office paper and cardboard are disposed of and recycled in the waste paper, we only use toilet paper & Co. once, then it ends up in the sewer system or in the residual waste and is burned. What a waste of fresh wood!

Toilet paper - the location also matters!
Why we in Germany, with an estimated 134 rolls per person and year (Statista 2018), use the most toilet paper after the USA, remains our secret.
What can be done about it?
1. Use recycled toilet paper: no tree is felled for this!
2. We could do without one layer without any problems (e.g. 3 instead of 4 layers) - even without protecting our hands. That would cost a quarter less wood if we couldn't warm up to recycled rolls ...

 

4. Special papers

For what? Wallpaper, labels, decorative paper, cigarette paper, baking paper, banknotes
How much? 12 kilos per person and year = 5 percent of the total consumption
Consumption has remained the same for years.
The problem: Not even half (45 percent) of it is recycled paper.

 

The solution: recycled paper preserves the (rain) forests ...

The good news: In Germany, 78 percent of paper is made from waste paper. That is more than in many other countries.
But: A large part of the paper produced in Germany is exported. At the same time, we also end up with finished paper, books and magazines from countries that use significantly less waste paper - Finland and Sweden, for example. And also China, which imports large quantities of pulp from Indonesia.
That means: The proportion of waste paper in the products is in this country only about 59 percent, is therefore significantly lower. But we can change that:We only buy recycled paper made from 100 percent waste paper!

... and it can do a lot more:

Compared to paper made from fresh wood fibers, the production of recycled paper consumes

  • up to 60 percent less energy
  • up to 70 percent less water
  • causes significantly less carbon dioxide, i.e. fewer harmful greenhouse gases
  • leaves less waste and chemical substances in the wastewater
  • Waste paper can be recycled many times!

 

 

Recycled paper is a real environmental champion

- and cool to use!
In this way we help ensure that the species-rich nature in the rainforest countries does not have to give way to tree plantations and that the livelihoods of their inhabitants are preserved.
So we can all prevent

  • that in Brazil the eucalyptus plantations for pulp production continue to expand. Small farmers and indigenous communities in particular suffer from this. You can find out more about this above under Brazil.
  • that in Indonesia the acacia plantations for paper production continue to eat their way into the rainforests - there is also illegal logging. The country mainly exports its pulp to China - from there it reaches us as finished products, for example as books and stationery.

And that is what we achieve with recycled paper:

People keep nature and the basis of life

Because they are often driven out for the tree plantations. Smallholders and indigenous communities in particular are being robbed of the land that they have used and preserved for generations.
The forest is the basis of life for these people. It is their home, provides them with food, medicine, building materials for their houses, and income. And it is their spiritual place.

Soils and waters stay clean

Wood plantations consist of fast growing trees like eucalyptus (in Brazil) or acacia (in Indonesia). So that they are as productive as possible, they are richly fertilized and sprayed with a lot of chemicals against unwanted greenery and insects. This means that the arable land is being poisoned. And also lakes and rivers.
In addition, eucalyptus trees in particular swallow a lot of water. That is what people lack for drinking, cooking, for their animals and fields. And the droughts continue to worsen.

 

Animals and plants are saved from extinction

Brazil and Indonesia are home to the greatest diversity of animal and plant species on earth - despite the fact that they have been losing more and more rainforests for decades. Not only for wood plantations for paper, but above all for palm oil, soy, sugar cane, mining, dams.
Many animals in both countries are already threatened with extinction or endangered:
In Indonesia: orangutan, forest elephant, Sumatran tiger, Java rhinoceros, proboscis monkey, pangolin, slow lorikeet
In Brazil: Amazon dolphin, tapir, spider monkey, golden poison dart frog, manatee, ocelot, giant otter, ringed sloth, anteater
In order to protect threatened species, we have to preserve their habitats. With all their diversity of animal and plant species.

The climate can recover

The rainforests are the green lungs of the earth. They store the climate-damaging carbon dioxide and produce oxygen that we need to breathe. If they are cut down or burned, large amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.
Wood plantations from identical trees cannot be compared in any way with the diversity of plants in tropical rainforests.
In addition, large contiguous rainforest areas such as in Brazil (Amazon basin) and Indonesia are extremely important for the water cycle. Because they store moisture like a sponge. The entire rainforest vegetation and the jungle floors soak up the raindrops and hold them back. They then slowly release the absorbed moisture back into the atmosphere. The humid air masses rise and form new rain clouds. About half of the water is in a cycle over the rainforest. If the rainforests are cut up, cleared or burned, this water cycle starts to stutter.
The loss of rainforests, as we are currently experiencing in Brazil and Indonesia, is a major contributor to global warming. With our paper consumption, we can at least make an important contribution to the improvement.

And you can do that

  • Only use products made from recycled paper - preferably with the Blue Angel environmental seal. The angel shows that the product was manufactured in a particularly environmentally friendly way - from 100 percent recycled paper. But of course, the same applies to recycled paper: Please use it sparingly.
  • Order as few products as possible in your family on the Internet. This saves you a lot of packaging and cardboard boxes.
  • Bring the waste paper on foot or by bike to the container
  • When you buy paper, don't be fooled by the fact that the packaging says “wood-free”. This only indicates the process by which the paper was made. But it comes from 100% wood. You can find out why it is still called that here.
  • You don't have to throw away paper that you have only written on on one side; you can still use the other side as a scrap of paper. This will save you a lot of paper! If you want to print something, always print on both sides.
  • Better use one for school Lunch box instead of paperr. This is also cheaper in the long run, and your bread cannot be crushed.
  • Make sure not to buy paper that has been bleached with chlorine. Not only does this paper contribute to the destruction of rainforests and other nature, but it also uses toxic chemicals to make it whiter. That harms the environment even more. Recycled papers are never bleached with chlorine.
  • Ask your parents to cancel unwanted brochures: Have them deleted from distribution lists by phone call or send back brochures with the note "Not prepaid back to sender. Unsolicited shipment ”.
    You can also get registered in the so-called Robinson list to prevent annoying advertising letters. The consumer advice centers have other good tips on this.
  • Give your Knowledge of paper to everyone, that you know.
  • And here is a tip from our reader Maja:
    “Since almost everyone has old (newspaper) paper, you can easily make envelopes out of it. With a few stickers (or whatever else you have to pimp up on), old paper quickly becomes personal and individual envelopes and the rainforest and the environment are helped. "

swell:
* Paper teaching materials - From nature to culture
Paper & Ecology e.V. (Advice Evelyn Beauty)
and Working Group for Nature and Environment Education NRW e.V.
Graphics from this brochure: Bauer & Horlitz Communication Design PartG, www.studio-nice.de
* Response of the federal government to a small request from the Greens
* Federal Environment Ministry and Federal Environment Agency
* Statista
* www.blauer-engel.de

Last updated: May 10, 2021