Trees for me are like wise old men, holding wisdom and countenance, with ultimate patience, surviving while the world around moves too fast for its own good. With wilderness all around, it’s quite shocking to come across an area that has been clear-cut. You stand in disbelief at the barren wasteland, a distinctive line where wilderness was allowed, and taken away.
And that is the result of our nation’s consumption of forests — for disposable paper.
In the U.S., we consume, on average, 700 pounds of paper products per person each year. Products that, for the most part, are created by cutting down forests.
In a discussion with a friend about how much paper we consume, he was arguing that trees are a renewable resource. I agree! But a tree planted today will take 30 to 80 years to reach the maturity needed to be cut down again for paper.
Our forests, those that we are so familiar with as recreation areas, support different types of plants and animals. These wild areas are being lost and replanted with neat rows of one species of softwoods that produce the most paper for the space.
Think of the movie “I, Robot” with Will Smith, with all the robots lined up at attention, and you get the picture of the rows and rows of sameness: A farm (not forest) of paper-producing pine trees.
Not that I am against replanting trees, but what and how we replace them isn’t with the same subtleties of nature. To avoid losing our forests, and still use paper, there is a choice, and it comes from using 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper.
Post-consumer is simply what it sounds like — paper that’s recycled after its first use. Post-consumer is applicable to all kinds of materials, not just paper. That includes plastic, rubber, aluminum and glass.
If everyone in the U.S. switched one roll of virgin paper product for a post-consumer product, we could save 544,000 trees for every one roll of Bounty paper towel not used, or save 423,900 trees, for every one roll of Quilted Northern toilet paper not used.
Not all recycled paper is created equal, and that is where you, as a savvy consumer, will need to read the fine print.
To ensure fewer trees are cut down, buy more products with the most amount of post-consumer content possible.
In Tracy, that has been hard to do. I was encouraged for a time when Target and Costco both carried brands of post-consumer recycled content paper products, like paper towels and toilet paper, but they have pulled them from their shelves. An employee at Costco told me no one was buying them, although it’s hard to know how long they were there.
Now my consumer spending is going to Longs Drugs/CVS, which sells 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper towels, toilet paper and napkins, and Staples, which sells 100 percent post-consumer recycled copy paper.
The novelty of post-consumer use has not been lost on our kids. Their friends have come over looking for organic toilet paper!
Once I stop laughing, I tell them that organic toilet paper would be leaves, and post-consumer is their recycling put to work.
No one can get away from using tissue to blow their nose, or toilet paper to wipe our behinds, or paper towels and napkins to wipe up our messes, or copy and printer paper for our homes, businesses and schools.
But I would rather save the forests to enjoy for all generations than cut down a tree for a tissue, paper towel or piece of paper.
For a change: Recycle all your newspaper, empty envelopes and paper packaging. It helps keep the chain going.
To make a difference: Buy copy paper and paper towels with recycled content.
To make a stand: Buy paper products with 100 percent post-consumer recycled content. You’ll save a forest!
• Christina D.B. Frankel is a 20-year Tracy resident, architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs twice-monthly in the Tracy Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.