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Paper Industry Facts

Paper -- Its History and Role in Society


Paper - although largely taken for granted in today's high-tech world - is called by many one of the essential building blocks of society. Paper and related products - such as paperboard, packaging, tissue and newsprint - permeate the social fabric of modern civilization. Paper is in almost every product that we use: books and photocopies, tissue and sanitary products, newspapers and magazines, containers, catalogs, wallpaper, food packaging, gift wrap, and many other staples of everyday life. Paper fibers are in our computers and paper insulation is in our attics, car doors, and floors. Paper is still considered the safest long-term way to store data. We even find paper's cellulose-based derivative products in surgical gowns, gas mask filters, ice cream , our clothes, toothpaste, film base stock, and the plastics that are used everywhere.

In fact, we use more than six hundred billion pounds each and every year around the world. This amounts to an average global consumption level of about 100 pounds per person, of which roughly one-third is printing and writing paper, another third is paperboard packaging, and the remainder represents all other uses combined. Importantly, the U.S. manufactures and consumes about one-third of the world's total volume, or 200 billion pounds per year - which amounts to approximately 700 pounds of paper products for every man, woman and child in this country, year after year.[1] The once-vaunted "paperless society" bears no relationship to reality, now or in the foreseeable future.

Clearly, paper, emanating from renewable and sustainable fiber-based resources, is a mainstay of our needs today, as it has been for centuries past. The need for paper began when man first started to record traditions, religion, and legal documents. Before papermaking, materials such as clay nails, papyrus, pounded bark, silk and parchment were used to record information, but none of these materials were either portable or cost-effective enough to mass-produce. Paper began in China as early as 200 BC, where the oldest known paper was used for a prayer found embedded in an adobe brick that was used to bless a home. The paper was made from recycled fishing nets, bamboo and hemp.

As paper evolved, the choice of fibers used to make it changed according to what was available locally. For instance, in Japan, mulberry trees were used to make paper, Tibetans used the Daphne plant, and in Europe and the US recycled clothing was used for fiber. Although the fiber sources for paper have changed greatly over time, the principles of papermaking itself have not fundamentally changed. Nevertheless, with the scale and scope of a modern high-tech paper machine, a papermaker from Imperial China or pre-industrial Europe would be hard-pressed to recognize his craft, if not the end product, in today's world.

Paper has changed its form, shape, color, substance, surface characteristics, performance properties, and end use applications in concert with the evolving needs of mankind. From the use of paper as a construction tool in ancient China, to the oil based papers of early Great Britain and the security papers of currency, to the crude printing papers used for the Gothenburg presses in Europe and the butcher block papers of the early 1900s in the U.S., to the newsprint of the roaring 20's and the packaging materials and high-tech printing and sanitary products of today's world paper has adapted to the needs of mankind and his constantly advancing technologies. Paper, in one form or another, has been a staple of centuries past, and there is no meaningful evidence that this will change.

[1]Industry Overview: United States," Pulp and Paper North American Factbook 1999-2000. : Miller Freeman, Inc., San Francisco, 1999, pg. 9.


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