Researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) and the Center for Resource Efficiency & the Environment (CREE) at the University College London (UCL) have set up this Sankey diagram of global material flows in the paper life cycle, from primary inputs to end-of-life waste treatment.

Flows are in megatonnes based on data for 2012. We can see the five phases in the paper life cycle, from wood harvest over pulping, paper making, to use and discard/end-of-life. Almost half of the paper used and discarded worldwide in 2012 was recycled (194 Mt out of 399 mt). However, 154 Mt of used paper still ended up on landfills.

The authors further discuss environmental performance metrics. They point out that looking only at the recycling rate may lead to a wrong impression. They propose to also consider another recycling metrics (recycled input rate, RIR), and a material efficiency metrics.

The paper ‘Global Life Cycle Paper Flows, Recycling Metrics, and Material Efficiency’ by Stijn Van Ewijk, Julia Stegemann, and Paul Ekins has been published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. A summary can be found here, or access the full article at Wiley Online Library (Open Access under Creative Commons license).

Thanks to the author Stijn van Ewijk for pointing me to this recent publication.

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