Photo: The paper cycle: Where do you fit in?


Most paper still comes from forest ecosystems, which function as long as they are intact. Forests clean our air, filter our water, and hold down soil. Trees, which come from forests, can be made into things as hard as a kitchen table and as soft as a sheet of paper.

To make paper

  1. Trees are cut down.
  2. The parts not used for furniture or building construction are ground into chips.
  3. Chips are processed into wood pulp.
  4. Wood pulp is transformed into a variety of finished products at paper mills.
    Here's where you come in. We all use paper every day. It's made into the cardboard box that our breakfast cereal comes in, the pages in our textbooks, and the receipts we get at the grocery store — just to name a few. The best kind of paper has already been recycled.
  5. Paper is picked up and taken back to a paper mill to be reprocessed.
    You can harvest your paper from the recycling bin for materials to make your own seed paper. When you're done with it, return it to the Earth and watch it grow!

Why forest ecosystems are important

Most paper products come from trees, and trees are part of forest ecosystems. Trees do amazing things:

  • They suck moisture up into their roots, and transpire it out of their leaves, cleaning the water and cooling the air.
  • Trees make effective sound barriers, muffling noise pollution, making an otherwise noisy street a quieter place to live.
  • They fight soil erosion, conserve rainwater, and reduce water runoff after storms.
  • They are useful windbreaks, lowering heating costs for homes and offices.
  • Small windows in their green leaves called 'stomata' remove gaseous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide from the air. Microscopic airborne particles — which can be breathed into our lungs causing irritation, or serious health problems — are pulled out of the air when they land on leaves.
  • Like all green plants, trees release oxygen into the air. We breathe in the oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change. It's one of the gases released when we burn fossil fuels, like gas or oil. Trees, and the forest ecosystems they are part of, are "carbon sinks" and suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
  • They provide habitat for birds, mammals, insects, and fungi.
  • Trees provide food, like nuts and fruit, for numerous species, including us!
June 8, 2011

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