It’s tough to arrive at an accurate estimate, because of variables such as the weight of different kinds of wood, the size of trees, and the type of pulping process, etc. But the United States produced about 20,700,000 tons of this paper last year, which takes approximately 55 to 110 million trees. However, we only recycle about 11,000,000 tons, or 53 percent, according to the American Forest and Paper Association. (Recycling is vital because about a third of new paper comes from recycled paper. Another third is from waste such as sawdust and scrap from lumber mills, according to the EPA.)
Data from last year do indicate that we used a third less paper than when the “paperless” office went into high gear 20 years ago. But even this statistic might say more about the recent economic downturn than anything else because in 2007 when the economy was hot, we went through more printing paper than ever.
As to your original question, a rule of thumb is that a cord of hardwood (128 cubic feet) weighing two tons will produce 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of paper. So to arrive at the number of trees needed for a ton, I imagine one of those lost trees with an average 8-inch diameter trunk to a usable height of about 45 feet. Applying the simple πr2 formula to get the cross-sectional area and multiplying it by the height, we discover that this Platonic-yet-real yet-dead tree contains roughly ten cubic feet of wood. So it would take about 8 of these trees to produce between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of paper, Since a typical 500-sheet packet of the paper weighs 5 pounds, that’s 10,000 to 20,000 sheets per tree. Now if that sounds like a small amount to you…think about the volume of paper unnecessarily used in the first place, and take note of the vast amount that gets wasted instead of recycled.
By the way, this newsletter was produced using 100% recycled pixels and absolutely no paper at all.