Re: Betsy Hart's article

David Assmann (
Wed, 10 Nov 1999 15:57:04 -0800

I would like to address two issues raised in your article. First you make
the statement that "Recycling paper, for instance, does not save trees. The
vast majority of our paper comes from trees grown on farms for that purpose=
In fact, there are more trees in the United States today than at any other
time in this century."

Only 5% of the virgin (never cut) forests in the U.S. remain intact (Brazil=
on the other hand, still has 80% of its original tropical rainforests).
Less than 10 percent of the forest that once stretched from northern
California to the Canadian border has been left intact. We=B9ve lost more
than 30 million acres of timberland since 1962 and we=B9ll lose another 25
million acres in the next 45 years. Since 1978, the U.S. has cut more trees
than any other country. We lead the 19 major industrial nations in
percentage of wooded areas lost in the last two decades.

Although the forestry industry says it plants millions of trees each year t=
"replace" trees it has cut, many of the seedlings fail to survive,
particularly in clear-cut forest areas that are prone to erosion. In
comparing trees cut down to trees planted, the industry usually counts ever=
seedling, whether or not it grows into a tree. Even if we end up more
trees, we are losing both forest acreage and critical bio-diversity (withou=
even addressing the issue of whether a seedling is a substitute for a
several-centuries old tree).

If you compare acreage instead of trees, the story is quite different.
Timberland area in the United States decreased from 515 million acres in
1962 to 483 million acres in 1987 and, according to the U.S. Forest Service=
will decline to 456 million acres in 2040.

Approximately 42% of the trees harvested nationwide end up as pulpwood for
pulp and paper. Less than two-thirds of the trees "harvested" for paper
come from tree farms - the other third come from land owned by other privat=
companies, public lands and national forests. More than half the cubic
volume of trees harvested in our national forests is used to manufacture
pulp and paper!

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that we would used
17.6% less pulpwood by 2040 if we increased our wastepaper utilization rate
to 39%, and a study by U.S. Forest Service research Peter Ince concluded
that we could reduce our demand for pulpwood by more than 2.5 billion cubic
feet by 2040 by increase our wastepaper utilization rate to 45% in 2040

Large scale clearcutting, a practice often used to harvest trees, turns
forests into farms. Biodiversity disappears, wiping out species of plants
and animals. A study at the University of North Carolina, for example,
showed that 80% of all salamanders were wiped out when mature forests were
turned into clearcuts in the southern Appalachians.

Destruction of the forests in the Pacific Northwest has global implications=
According to Oregon State University researchers, the destruction of the
ancient forests in northwestern North America over the past 100 years has
resulted in a net release of 1.8 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere -
2% of all carbon emissions released worldwide through deforestation and
other land use changes in the past century.

Paper recycling is a manufacturing process, but it uses significantly less
resources than virgin paper manufacturing. A study by the U.S. Environmenta=
Protection Agency showed that for every ton of recycled paper we use instea=
of virgin paper, we save 4,100 kilowatt hours of energy (that=B9s enough to
power the average home for six months), conserve 7,000 gallons of water, an=
keep 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air.

The second issue I wish to address briefly is the economics of recycling.
Our analysis for the City of San Francisco for curbside recycling has found
that, on average, garbage collection and disposal costs about $150 a ton.
Recycling, on the other hand, costs between $70 and $130 a ton (depending o=
the market value for recyclables). Recycling has consistently been less
expensive than disposal.

David Assmann
Recycling and Hazardous Waste Program Manager
City and County of San Francisco