In the era of the iPad and Kindle, good old-fashioned paper still holds its own. Each year, the world consumes more than 300 million tonnes of it, and consumption has grown by 400 per cent over the past 40 years. But there are issues to address in managing its use — and re-use. Wasteful use of paper by individuals and the corporate world is one concern, although the newspaper industry, for instance, has over the years managed to bring down the wastage rate. A more important issue relates to the optimal recycling of ‘post-consumer,' or used, paper. The Union government's Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion has taken the right initiative — albeit rather belatedly — by floating a Discussion Paper on the collection and recycling of waste paper as a prelude to formulating a national policy. Such a policy could lay down guidelines and procedures and sensitise citizens and industry-consumers to improve segregation, collection and reuse to evolve a sustainable mechanism to achieve a significant level of recovery.
The use of recycled cellulosic fibre for paper-making has been picking up globally. In India, the share of this raw material has risen from 7 per cent in 1970 to 47 per cent in 2011. This has reduced dependence on wood from 84 per cent in 1970 to 31 per cent in 2011. Waste paper imports for this purpose cost India about a billion dollars in 2011; the figure was $5.1 million in 1980. This is because waste paper recovery here is only 27 per cent currently, as opposed to 73 per cent in Germany, for example. In India, the collection of waste paper and other paper products such as corrugated cartons is today an industry in itself, providing income and employment opportunities to a large workforce of semi-skilled and skilled people in the informal sector. But this operation requires a better business model to facilitate an integrated system of collection, source segregation and scientific handling, and a mandated mechanism. Projects launched by the Bangalore and Hyderabad Municipal Corporations to develop waste collection ventures are steps in the right direction. The stakeholders, especially those in the private sector, should support the government's initiative and help shape a policy that would help them, the environment, and the workforce involved by means of institutional mechanisms. Industry and chambers of commerce should evolve voluntary guidelines to contribute to an efficient system of waste paper collection. After all, removing as much paper as possible from the garbage cycle and channelling it through organised methods would not only significantly reduce the environmental load on the eco-system but also lower, even eliminate, the import bill.