The pulp and paper industry contributes less than 1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon neutrality is an inherent property of biomass reflecting the fact that the carbon residing inside it was only recently removed from the atmosphere, so returning it to the atmosphere has no net effect on atmospheric CO2. This inherent property exists whether or not trees are regrown. The overall benefits of biomass fuels depend on how efficiently we use biomass to displace fossil fuels.
In 2020, renewable, carbon-neutral biomass supplied, on average, about 64% of the energy needs at U.S. pulp and paper mills.
The U.S. paper industry was among the first to take voluntary action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2020, U.S. paper companies had reduced GHG emissions (CO2 eq) per ton of product by 24.1% from a 2005 baseline. This reduction is attributed to the predominant use of carbon-neutral biomass fuel, the switch from coal and oil to less carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as natural gas, and equipment and process enhancements that improved energy efficiency.
In 2020, the U.S. pulp and paper industry was responsible for only 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 0.5% in 2019. The industry’s actual emissions were slightly lower than in 2019, but increased as a percentage of total emissions, which decreased 11% due to the reduction in transportation fossil fuel emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic.[3,4]
Recycling avoids the release of greenhouse gases when paper decomposes in landfills, and paper and paperboard are recycled more than any other material in the United States. By reducing the amount of paper and paperboard products going to landfills through recycling, greenhouse gases in the U.S. were lowered by 155 million metric tons of CO2e in 2018. This is equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year.