Talking About Paper


Toilet paper seems to be the most sought about item these days. That is why I remembered a week ago or so reding this funny article from the NYT about paper and 🧻  toilet paper in particular:

My Tireless Quest for a Tubeless Wip

Yes, the article was funny but very incorrect, and the writer should have spent an hour or two to do research about paper and trees. There are a few clichéd or inaccurate statements.

  • And then there is the environmental concern. Cardboard is made from trees, and cutting down trees contributes to global warming, “ — That is not accurate!
  • I LOVED not having a tube to recycle!!” — Recycling is important, very important!
  • “‘Using 600-year-old trees to wipe your butt’” — No way! no 600-year-old-tree is used to make toilet paper cardboard tubes!


Here is How Paper is Made

A little history

Bark paper making technology originated in China. According to tradition, the paper was first produced in 105. The material used was probably the bark of the paper mulberry tree (Brussonetia papyrifera).

Paper reached Europe in the twelfth century. Imported from Damascus through Constatinopoli, or from Africa through Sicily. 

In the thirteenth century the merchant fleets of the Mediterranean, financed by large merchants (mostly Venetians and Genoese), shared the thriving market.


Things changed from 1264 when in Fabriano, in the Marche, in the first European paper mill and mass production of paper began.

Since 1264 Fabriano has been synonymous with high-quality paper, known to publishers, writers, and artists. Indeed, the people of Fabriano must be given the credit for their ability to engender a true leap in paper quality and to make Fabriano the cradle of the production of modern paper.

Fabriano products have been in my childhood dreams since grammar school. I still hold great affection for Fabriano items and covet a few notebooks and other writing materials.

A Luxury No More

Forest-rich countries such as Scandinavia, Canada, and the United States became the new market references, and in 1871 we have the first toilet paper in rolls.


Before this era, a book or newspaper were rare and precious objects and illiteracy was widespread. With the gradual introduction of the paper economy, newspapers, notebooks, novels, and other literature became available to everyone.

Paper offered the possibility of writing personal documents and correspondence, no longer as a luxury reserved for the few.

Screenshot 2020-03-15 at 19.25.54

Fir (Genus Abies) and Poplar (Populus)

The most commonly used material is the pulp of wood or cellulose, mostly softwood from trees such as fir or poplar.

The paper is produced with an industrial process that, for market economies, takes place in large plants. The environmental impacts of the sector are therefore mainly deriving from the large volumes of raw materials and energy treated. The main components of the paper are however natural and renewable and the paper products—after their use—are recyclable, biodegradable and compostable.

The raw material used for the production of paper mainly comes from wood, the source of cellulose most widely available in nature. To date, about half of the fibers used by the industry are recovered, making paper the most recycled material in Europe.

The most common and less valuable wood species are destined for the production of paper, coming largely from sustainably managed forests or dedicated crops.

In Italy over 75% of the virgin fibers used by the industry come from forests certified according to internationally recognized sustainable management schemes, which guarantee that more is replanted than what is cut. All the wood and cellulose used by European paper mills are also subject to verification that they are legally cut and marketed. No other industrial sector can boast such high levels of raw material certified for sustainability.

Dedicated Plantations

Yet the paper industry is often associated with deforestation, although only less than 12% of the wood used by man is destined for the production of paper. For example, cellulose from Brazil, the main supplier of raw materials for Italian paper mills, comes from dedicated eucalyptus plantations, which have nothing to do with the Amazon rainforest.

The paper industry is also often associated with the pollution of water from chlorinated organic substances. In the past, bleaching of cellulose was in fact based on a highly impacting process that involved the use of chlorine gas. With growing environmental awareness since the 1970s, European paper industries have made a complete conversion of their industrial processes and plants, eliminating the dangerous and polluting chlorine gas and replacing it with technologies based on chlorine dioxide or free reagents chlorine.

How About Water

The main environmental aspects related to paper production only due to water emissions. Water is, in fact, the “engine” of the production process and is used in large quantities. However, 90% of the water used by the paper mills is continuously recycled and the consumption of freshwater that is reintegrated into the process has greatly reduced over time. The water used in the paper mills is not however lost but is returned to the surface water body after being purified.

By treating almost exclusively natural substances, paper mill emissions do not register the presence of toxic or persistent pollutants.

Disclaimer: The photos of the trees are not mine. There are many such plantations nearby, but I could not leave the house because of the COVID-19

Screenshot 2020-03-15 at 19.25.14

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

3 thoughts on “Talking About Paper

  1. Hello Sevedb Blog,

    Can you maybe post a link to where you get your scientific resources from?
    According to National Geographic, Greenpeace, New York Times and the Natural Resources and Defence Council, toilet paper is actually putting a large pressure on virgin forests (not the Amazon I agree).
    My research found that toilet paper is not really eco-friendly, but if you have papers or articles that prove me wrong I would like to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I shall give you more info. Wikipedia English page is the exact opposite of what Wikipedia in Italian states.
      I will gladly look for more information. There is this article from The Guardian that contest the idea that going paperless is better:

      But, I did grow up in a region where the “paper” trees were regularly planted, cut, and replanted. And a paper making factory nearby.

      But if you have the patience to follow this trend I shall look up for more.


  2. Thank you for your comment, which I very much appreciated.
    I based my information on the Wikipedia IT. See link below. I did not counter-check the ENG page, which is the same about the primary information of how paper was made, except the part about the Environmental Impact.

    Of the many pages I looked up most are dedicated to children and therefore they just go thru very quickly. And about the environmental impact they say what it is “politically correct” and fair to say, considering the audience they think they are addressing.
    In ENG pages there are many sites dedicated to children also. Although, I found one:
    “Paper’s impact on the environment continues even after it has been thrown away. As at early 2008 in the United States, paper and paperboard accounted for the largest portion (34percent) of the municipal waste stream, and 25 percent of discards after recovery of materials for recycling and composting. The problem with all this paper being thrown away is not just about landfill space. Once in a landfill, paper has the potential to decompose and produce methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide (UNEP). Finally, transportation throughout the system also has significant environmental impacts. Harvested trees or recovered paper are transported to pulp mills, rolls of paper are transported to converters, and finished paper products are transported to wholesale distributors and then on to their retail point of sale. Transportation at each of these stages consumes energy and results in greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Then there is this graphic:

    (sorry the graphic pic didn’t paste)

    As you can see the “recycled paper” is growing in the production of paper. And that is why I criticized the article. The problem is not the core of the toilet paper, but to recycle that “CORE!” As for the other issues in bold above, the problem is the current administration that lifted many restrictions implemented by the former administration.

    However, for me the most urgent thing in the USA is to educate people to recycling (and I do not mean paper only). I lived in the USA for a long time and in my condo people DID NOT recycle! and they still don’t because I own the apartment and I know that the condo pays fines to the city for not “trashing” appropriately.

    Unfortunately, the emails with the tree at the signature and the invitation to not print, was just a fashionable thing to do. Came Xmas the all went to buy a tree. That is waste!

    The Italian paper industry is among the first in Europe for its ability to innovate processes and products. Paper factories cannot just wear their lumberjack boots and go out chopping trees. They have to buy the trees from the plantations I talked about; and they have contracts that last years with those plantations. That is why I raised my brows when the author claims that a 600 yers old tree is cut down for our toilet paper. It is not.

    Do you realistically think it is convenient for a factory to cut down the Sequoias in CA? There are better ways to go about, and more profitable too in order of manpower.

    I took the time to read many of your posts in your blog. I think we can both agree that the biggest problem is plastic, not paper. In fact if many food packaging would be in paper instead of plastic, the planet would be happier. I am very conscious about the amount of trash I do produce, I implemented numerous new habits. From going to the supermarket with, not only my own bag, but also my own little bags to put the vegetables in. To having my own straw, washable and reusable, to my own little fork, knife, and spoon (very cute too); to my own chopsticks, with their little box so that they can fit back into my bag.

    Thank you again for your comment.


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