I’ve recently published
a piece in Aeon, looking at the peak in global paper use, which
occurred a couple of years ago, and arguing that this is an
indication of a less resource-intensive future. Over the fold, a
longer draft, with some links.
Since the dawn of history (literally, of written records),
civilisation has depended critically on paper. As living standards
have risen, so has the volume of paper produced, printed and read.
The more knowledge we have and the wider its distribution, the more
paper is needed.
At least, that was true until the end of the 20th century. With
the rise of the Internet, the correlation between paper and
information broke down. Increasingly, information is created and
manipulated in electronic form, with paper serving mainly as an
official record of the process.
In 2013, the
world reached Peak Paper. World production and consumption of
paper reached its maximum, flattened out, and is now falling. In
fact, the peak in the traditional use of paper, for writing and
printing, took place a few years earlier, but was offset for a
while by continued growth in other uses, such as packaging and
China, by virtue of its size, rapid growth and middle-income
status is the bellwether here; as China goes, so goes the world.
Unsurprisingly in this light, China’s own peak year for paper use
also occurred in 2013. Poorer countries, where universal literacy
is only just arriving, are still increasing their use of paper, but
even in these countries the peak is not far away.
The arrival of Peak Paper is of interest for a number of
* First, it is, in large measure, the realisation of a
prediction that was over-hyped in 20th century, and then derided in
the early 2000s, namely,...