We all know that recycling of paper is the thing to do, and if you ask many people why they religiously separate their trash and ensure that paper is always put in the recycle bin, they (at least many of the people I have asked) simply say that it's good for the environment.

One of the things I would like to know is whether or not recycling of paper has actually reduced deforestation? Are there numbers to show this?

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    I suspect that the answer is no, Jevons paradox and all. – Borror0 Sep 8 '11 at 20:03
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    Paper is made from farmed trees in the U.S. Generally in the areas where trees are farmed, it would be developments or farmland if it wasn't tree farms (I grew up near tree farms). Saving paper doesn't "save" trees anymore than refusing to eat beef "saves" cows from extinction. – Russell Steen Sep 8 '11 at 23:38
  • And the deforestation in the developing world is a lot about clearing farmland – Daniel Iankov Sep 9 '11 at 6:30
  • @Russell, an interesting example: Australia of all places exports wood chips to Japan (and imports paper products). Now compare forest stands in Australia and Japan ... (I'd love to know why they don't make paper from the wood chips in Australia.) – Hendrik Vogt Sep 9 '11 at 10:22
  • @Hendrik It’s worth knowing that Australia imposes quite strict quotas on deforestation. I don’t know how much wood they produce but their quota aims to ensure that a balance is kept. I don’t know whether this is already the case in general but allegedly it has been implemented locally. – Konrad Rudolph Sep 9 '11 at 15:16

You are not going to be able show such things, as there are many other reasons why forest area goes up or down apart from paper production.

If you want figures on changes in forestry in different countries, you could try FAO Statistics, such as this which suggests forested area has risen in Europe and North & Central America but fallen in other continents since 1990, and fallen worldwide. You can find a forestry products database here including recovered paper and fibre pulp. Some of these statistics have been repackaged for individual countries here.

But what you will not be able to find is what would have happened without recycling. Basic economics suggests non-commercial recycling of paper will probably reduce the price of paper below what it would otherwise be (so boosting demand), while discouraging the planting/replanting of forests for future paper production. Whether the net effect on forest area is positive or negative is unclear. For example Finland is a significant paper producer with a tradition of replanting, but its forest area declined from 2000 to 2010 after having risen in the previous decade.

  • This appears to conflate forestry and tree cutting as a whole with tree cutting solely for paper. Tree cutting for paper is but a fraction of the myriad uses for wood products. – Russell Steen Sep 9 '11 at 21:46
  • @Russell: that is my first point about being unable to discover a link. It is also why I looked at Finland, where paper is particularly important. – Henry Sep 9 '11 at 21:53

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