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wiggy
2014-Jan-05, 08:02 AM
I've been wondering for the last few years whether it would be more environmentally friendly to bury paper and cardboard instead of recycling it. Would it be an energy effective way of sequestering carbon?

I don't have the skills to work out the energy use of recycling a product vs making a new one, but the question fascinates me with every wide range of products

Noclevername
2014-Jan-05, 08:42 AM
Short answer: If we bury it after one use, we have to make more to use, and so we'll cut down more trees. If we recycle it, we get more use out of existing paper, and thus we'll need less trees cut down.

korjik
2014-Jan-05, 04:26 PM
you would have to bury the paper in such a way that it did not decay and release its carbon back into the atmosphere. If you did that, then the carbon would be sequestered.

The fact that more trees would be cut down is pretty irrelevant, as trees for paper are planted specifically for that purpose. Oddly enough, getting rid of paper completely would reduce the amount of forested lands as the lands currently farmed for trees would be changed to food.

Swift
2014-Jan-05, 04:33 PM
I don't have the skills to work out the energy use of recycling a product vs making a new one, but the question fascinates me with every wide range of products
Generally, the energy to recycle is less than the energy to make from new raw material. I know this is true for aluminum and I think its true for paper.

Solfe
2014-Jan-05, 04:55 PM
I compost a bit of paper and cardboard. It isn't the greatest practice because the process is releasing stuff from the paper like materials. However, since I use the cardboard and paper to build a structure within the reactor (reactor... that sounds so cool!) to create a drier environment for other materials that are good for composting, I still think it is a winning process.

Very often, we end up dumping the cardboard "ick" and shred it with a tool. It turns an ugly black color, but we use black mulch around the house and it looks nice when mixed in. That reduces the amount of mulch we buy and cart around, so that has to count for something. Right now I have 12 seedling trees hibernating for spring in a mix of cardboard mulch and soil from the back yard in my basement. It works nicely, because 5 of them are actually growing and green despite the fact they get little light at all.

Noclevername
2014-Jan-05, 05:33 PM
The fact that more trees would be cut down is pretty irrelevant, as trees for paper are planted specifically for that purpose.

:doh: I didn't know that.

BigDon
2014-Jan-08, 12:32 PM
you would have to bury the paper in such a way that it did not decay and release its carbon back into the atmosphere. If you did that, then the carbon would be sequestered.

The fact that more trees would be cut down is pretty irrelevant, as trees for paper are planted specifically for that purpose. Oddly enough, getting rid of paper completely would reduce the amount of forested lands as the lands currently farmed for trees would be changed to food.

That statement would be at odds with what I've seen in such shows as Discovery Channel's Logger series.

Swift
2014-Jan-08, 02:01 PM
That statement would be at odds with what I've seen in such shows as Discovery Channel's Logger series.
I haven't watched those shows, but korjik's statement is generally consistent with what I understand.

Most wood for paper and for cheaper lumber comes from commercial tree farms. They usually plant fast growing trees like white pine. Wood for other uses may come from mixed, old-growth forests.

Now, there is a counter argument to the tree farms are "good" for the environment statement - the questions comes: "compared to what". A lot of the tree farms are on lands that used to be natural, mixed growth forests. I don't believe they are generally planted on former farm-for-food land. They also are mono-cultures, and so support a lot less biodiversity than natural forests.

A lot of carbon sequestration in forests are not just in the trees themselves, but comes from organic material that goes into the ground (leaf litter, root systems, other buried carbon). There is some evidence that the tree farms don't do this as well as natural, old-growth forests, though I don't know that this is completely understood.

wiggy
2014-Jan-20, 08:28 PM
I used to work for Tetra Pak. I know great swathes of pine forests are grown specifically for packaging because of the long fibre giving a superior product.

So if we got all that cardboard and paper and dumped it in an open cut mine....

The downside is having to use more land and resources to grow more trees, but is it offset by the cardboard and paper chucked in the mine.

swampyankee
2014-Jan-20, 08:44 PM
That statement would be at odds with what I've seen in such shows as Discovery Channel's Logger series.

I'm pretty certain most of the trees harvested in Maine are grown specifically for pulp. However, I also remember reading that a lot
of the Tsongas National Forest's old-growth trees were being exported to Japan for pulp.

JustAFriend
2014-Jan-20, 09:06 PM
The paper companies recycle as much as they can but the truth is a lot of it goes in landfills.

You can only recycle a moderate percentage of old paper into new paper.
Anything beyond that is burned or trashed.
It's not like aluminum where you can recycle pretty much 100% of the product.

Swift
2014-Jan-20, 09:41 PM
<snip>
So if we got all that cardboard and paper and dumped it in an open cut mine....

The downside is having to use more land and resources to grow more trees, but is it offset by the cardboard and paper chucked in the mine.
I also have to wonder if buried paper does not eventually re-enter the carbon cycle. I suspect a lot of it depends on the particulars of how the landfill is constructed and operated.

There is certainly evidence that at least under some circumstances that landfills do not decompose organic materials; you can google photos of old hot dogs wrapped in still legible 1950s newspapers as proof. But there are also landfills that exhibit a lot of decomposition, most often demonstrated by the copious amounts of methane they generate. In some of those cases the methane is recovered for fuel, but in other cases it is just vented into the atmosphere, where it is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.

I don't know the particulars of why you get decomposition in one case, and not in the other. I suspect at least part of it is how the landfill is capped and sealed (or not).

In some parts of the world, landfill space is at a premium, so it could also be a very expensive way to sequester carbon.

Jerry
2014-Jan-20, 10:11 PM
"Clean" Cardboard is a very efficient recycle. Paper less so, but still worth the effort. Better still, would be greater reliance upon electronic copies - There is no reason, for example, the the receipt for your groceries could not be tapped into your iphone.

In much of Europe, the container laws greatly reduce the amount of cardboard and plastic consumed.

Swift
2014-Jan-20, 10:27 PM
"Clean" Cardboard is a very efficient recycle. Paper less so, but still worth the effort. Better still, would be greater reliance upon electronic copies - There is no reason, for example, the the receipt for your groceries could not be tapped into your iphone.

In much of Europe, the container laws greatly reduce the amount of cardboard and plastic consumed.
Yes.

I think if we want to sequester carbon, the best way is not going to be to turn trees into paper and then bury the paper in the ground. I think the best way would be leave the carbon where it is, as much as possible, so leave the coal in the ground as coal, the oil and natural gas in their current states, and leave the trees as trees.

NorthernDevo
2014-Jan-21, 04:35 PM
Yes.

I think if we want to sequester carbon, the best way is not going to be to turn trees into paper and then bury the paper in the ground. I think the best way would be leave the carbon where it is, as much as possible, so leave the coal in the ground as coal, the oil and natural gas in their current states, and leave the trees as trees.

I can definitely agree in principle Swift; but I think we can also agree that our current society is not presently set up to make that in any way a possible option. Like it or not; our civilization is based on natural resources; and of those wood and fossil fuels are right at the top of the list. We simply can't stop using them at the moment. While I like the idea of stopping; I would suggest it would be far more useful to discuss how to minimize the damage we're currently doing.
(Oh - just realized - Sorry; I'm not talking about your post at all, I meant all the wrangling going on between governments, NGO's and protest groups.)

Threads like this one are much more effective than all the "You're wrong! No, you're wrong!" going on in governments today.

As to the question; I'd love to introduce a major thorn to the discussion: Not just the paper products; but all the stuff attached to it. Namely: ink. It might sound like a minor point but consider the implications. If you choose to dump paper products in order to sequester carbon, you're going to be dumping tons of ink in there as well. Now - ink is far more environmentally friendly that it was just a few years ago; the body is linseed-based rather than petroleum-based but even still; we're talking tons of it eventually leeching into the ground. To say nothing of bleach - far less in terms of volume but it definitely adds up as the mass of dumped paper products increase.

It might sound weird; but I often think about the Yellow Pages - by a wide margin pound-for-pound the heaviest-inked paper product I know. You might be surprised to know just how much of the weight of that big yellow monster you just smashed a spider with is yellow ink. (It varies depending on the particular book in question; but ink weight can be as much as one quarter total mass for a major city.)
The reason why I think about this is simply that the Yellow Pages are dying out - the market's drying up. Which means billions of 'em - the ones not being used as a base for the fern, that is - are heading to recycling and landfill. Much more likely to landfill; home recycling isn't nearly as widespread as it could be, IMO.

The option of burying them in order to sequester their carbon seems to me fraught with difficulties. For one thing; you'd need one seriously big hole. For another; there's all those contaminants I mentioned earlier - and I must point out that while much of modern printing ink is linseed based; there are whole hosts of inks that are petroleum and styrene based as well.
In my opinion - not knowing much about carbon sequestration - it would be far more effective to improve upon our current technologies; improve recycling efficiency (which IMO is already pretty good) rather than trying to fight Dave's Law of Warehouses (chuckle).
(DLOW was a wry observation I made a few years ago when our plant had opened its second warehouse. "Warehouses don't help anyone," I said, "cause if you're jammed to the rafters and open a new warehouse, in a week it'll be jammed to the rafters and you've got the same problem with a whole lot more product. You need to fix the system, not the space." It took two weeks to prove me right. ;) )

Now; just one more point I'd like to offer:


"Clean" Cardboard is a very efficient recycle. Paper less so, but still worth the effort. Better still, would be greater reliance upon electronic copies - There is no reason, for example, the the receipt for your groceries could not be tapped into your iphone.

In much of Europe, the container laws greatly reduce the amount of cardboard and plastic consumed.

I'm going to look into the container laws; I don't know about them but given the superb things countries like Germany are doing with their economics (as far as I can see from way over here) it sound like interesting reading. Now to my points. What if not everyone has an iPhone? I don't - I don't even have a TV. This clunky old self-built pc is the only piece of 'modern' technology and I like it that way. Second point: Is electronic waste safer and cleaner than paper waste?

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings, folks :)

Swift
2014-Jan-21, 08:00 PM
I can definitely agree in principle Swift; but I think we can also agree that our current society is not presently set up to make that in any way a possible option. Like it or not; our civilization is based on natural resources; and of those wood and fossil fuels are right at the top of the list. We simply can't stop using them at the moment. While I like the idea of stopping; I would suggest it would be far more useful to discuss how to minimize the damage we're currently doing.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. I wasn't advocating that we completely stop using fossil fuels or wood, in any short or medium term; clearly that is impossible. I was just making a point about two different competing methods for sticking carbon in the ground and preventing its conversion to CO2: the OP's idea of burying paper, and just removing that much less coal or oil from the ground.

As I've mentioned in the past, I don't believe there is a solution to Climate Change; even if we (as a species) were going to aggressively try to combat it, we would need a very multi-pronged approach. Of those many prongs, in the short term I think the most effective ones would be increasing efficiencies, reducing fossil fuel use, and developing non-carbon based energy sources, including nuclear.

I have no opinion on ink.

NorthernDevo
2014-Jan-21, 10:10 PM
Sorry if I wasn't clear. I wasn't advocating that we completely stop using fossil fuels or wood, in any short or medium term; clearly that is impossible. I was just making a point about two different competing methods for sticking carbon in the ground and preventing its conversion to CO2: the OP's idea of burying paper, and just removing that much less coal or oil from the ground.

As I've mentioned in the past, I don't believe there is a solution to Climate Change; even if we (as a species) were going to aggressively try to combat it, we would need a very multi-pronged approach. Of those many prongs, in the short term I think the most effective ones would be increasing efficiencies, reducing fossil fuel use, and developing non-carbon based energy sources, including nuclear.


And in that; we're in absolute agreement. :) My own thoughts are similar: every waste control or power generation system has its pros and cons; a successful plan would be to chain them together as it were; the pros of one system taking advantage of the cons of another. Obviously it's not a particularly well-researched opinion, this is one of many fields I don't know much about. But a chain could look something like this: Landfill is ultimately unsustaineable; but does serve as a storage and holding ground for garbage. The waste is used as fuel in WtE incinerators (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste-to-energy) which could reduce the load and requirement for coal-fired plants. (They'd certainly take care of the ink I mentioned earlier too - though in that case recycling's still the better bet, IMO.) Not sure how an incinerator's waste could be used, but it seems to me the potential reduction of coal pollution might make it worth it. In a proper scheme, Wiggy's thought of burying paper product to sequester carbon might well have a place; though I'm not sure where.
I'll stop there; anything else would be leading away from the topic, though I'll make the last point that nuclear, solar, wind and other low-impact energy sources should be exploited to a much greater level than they are now; the main problem of politics and NIMBY is going to be one tough hurdle to cross, though. :(
Thanks :)