We're all so used to jotting down our thoughts, novels or shopping lists on pieces of scrap paper or perfectly bleached white office sheets. Not to mention blowing our noses into disposable tissues. But how much do you know about where paper originates from?
Major Industry Players
Unsurprisingly, the leading countries in terms of paper and pulp production are China and the United States, followed by other economic giants such as Japan, Germany and Canada, and the densely forested Northern nations of Finland and Sweden.
The world's biggest single commercial producer of pulp and paper is the International Paper Company headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. Other big names include Stora Enso, UPM, and Nippon Paper, brands you may well recognise from the sides of your office paper boxes.
A number of concerns surround the paper and pulp industry, predominantly of an environmental nature. As timber is directly involved in the production of the materials, major areas of the world's forests are being destroyed to reap the economic benefits.
Although trees are often replanted, they take a long time to grow back to a large size. The resulting lack of densely forested areas has contributed to the decreasing air quality noted in many areas of the world. Chopping down trees at such an industrial proportion has also seen the depletion of unique natural habitats such as rainforests, which in turn has lead to the extinction of some native species.
Due to the widespread availability of paper products, people have grown accustomed to receiving unrequested mail: junk mail. Unfortunately, not enough people have access to recycling facilities and often those who do are lazy or uninformed. In any case, we shouldn't have to discard of such huge amounts of print materials that were unwanted in the first place, but such are the modern ways of business, advertising and market competition.
Unfortunately, the chemicals used to bleach paper products are sometimes allowed to flood local waters and cause dangerous spills and environmental pollution. Various conventions are in place to regulate these instances, such as the Stockholm Convention.
There is a vast amount of heavy technology involved in the production of paper and pulp products. It's impossible to provide a brief introduction to all the machinery, however, consider some of the key players.
A digester is the receptacle in which log chips are mixed with pulping chemicals, then heated with steam for a few hours until they reach a porridge-like consistency that is needed for the next stage of the process.
The bizzarely-named bed boilers ensure the combustion of paper sludge.
Industrial blowers are an important component of various processes such as drying and ventilating, and ensuring heat isn't allowed to accumulate in sensitive production areas that could cause flammability and dangerous gases to explode.