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The Bai Bang paper factory, started in 1974, is now one of Viet Nam’s most successful enterprises
©FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Pulp production and paper usage

In an increasingly de-materialized world, wood pulp is still everywhere – and finding new uses, all tracked by FAO.

Passports. Turpentine. Surgical gowns. These seemingly dissimilar items have one trait in common: they are sourced from trees. More specifically, they are produced from pulp, the cellulose that is extracted from wood.

In 1968, FAO published the first Pulp and Paper Capacities report to track and estimate global trends. Data are requested from 32 countries that represent 83 percent of the world’s production of paper and pulp. These data cover 30 types of pulp, such as pulp for paper and paperboard; thermo-mechanical coniferous pulp; bleached sulphate pulp; and coniferous dissolving pulp.

Just as the Yearbook reflects innovations in wood products, so too does Pulp and Paper Capacities reflect innovations in pulp and pulp production. Unlike the Yearbook, which is retrospective, Pulp and Paper Capacities is forward-looking, allowing industry to direct investment in tree growth and manufacturing facilities.

Pulp paper capacities book
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Early instances of the questionnaire that has allowed FAO to produce its Pulp and Paper Capacities
report since 1968.
Data source: FAO. 2023. Forestry production and trade. In: FAOSTAT. Rome. Cited 15 August 2021. https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FO
doi.org/10.4060/CC7561EN-fig03

Shifts in production and demand for pulp through the years

Trends in the global production and trade of pulp reflect broader economic changes. Prior to the 1990s, North America led the world in the production of wrapping and packaging paper. Now, with much manufacturing shifting east, Asia reports the highest totals of pulp and paper output.

As education levels in a country increase, there tends to be a corresponding rise in the consumption of pulp to produce the paper needed for books and other publications. The use of sanitary products such as tissues or menstrual pads, as well as cardboard for shipping goods, also picks up as countries grow their economies.

In response to the spread of e-commerce since the 2010s, further boosted by COVID-19-related lockdowns, the use of cardboard has expanded dramatically. This correlates with growth in manufacturing capacity: for the first time in decades, the pulp and paper industry is seeing fresh investment.

The future of wood pulp

Even as more data are generated, collected, communicated and consumed in a digital environment, and the demand for paper and newsprint decreases, there is growing demand for other cellulose-based products. Innovation is under way to design products made from wood that can replace those based on fossil fuels. Wood foam, for example, is a lightweight, cellulose-based rigid foam, with low bulk density and high insulating properties. It can be used to create tiles that serve as acoustic or thermal insulation in walls, or to create packaging for materials that require energy or liquid absorption. Although this product is still in development in the laboratory, it will be game-changing once scaled up to mass production.

Cellulose-based products are biodegradable. Even if transitory, they substitute more resource-intensive products and store carbon. By innovating and consuming more cellulose-based products, we can further the goals of improving quality of life while helping mitigate the effects of climate change.

FAOSTAT Forestry production trade

Recycled Paper and Climate Change

As a cellulose-based product, paper stores carbon. Its increased recycling and reuse can lengthen the time that carbon is stored. For one sheet of paper, the change is small; accumulated over reams and reams, it is substantial.

In 1997, the FAO Forest Product Statistics unit began collecting specific data. The Recovered Paper Data report covers 30 countries representing 90 percent of global consumption of recovered paper. In 2018, this report was consolidated into the Pulp and Paper Capacities report. Now, an online tool allows the public to track production of post-consumer wood and recovered paper.

In India, the world’s most populous nation, only 20 percent of wastepaper is collected; the rest ends up in landfills. Simultaneously, Indian mills have come to rely heavily on imported paper waste, with an import bill that ballooned from USD 5.1 million in 1980 to USD 1.8 billion in 2021.

The FAO Forest Product Statistics unit has also modelled what could happen if the recycling and reuse rate of paper increased in India – specifically, if half of the paper were used for four years instead of two. We estimate in this case that the total stock of carbon in paper in the country could grow by 7 percent to 143.5 million tonnes.

Mouse over to view values. Click product names in legend to remove product from graphic.
Data source: FAO. 2023. Forestry production and trade. In: FAOSTAT. Rome. Cited 30 June 2023. https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FO
doi.org/10.4060/CC7561EN-fig04




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