Not recycling paper has numerous environmental consequences. Paper is a renewable resource but the rate of use exceeds the rate of replacement for the plants and trees harvested. The result is a reduction in available resources with an impact on several different areas of the environment. Recycling is one necessary step towards conserving the valuable plant and forest resources.
Climate change is a major consequence of not recycling paper and other recyclable materials. The lack of recycling creates a demand for new resources and trees are logged to process into new paper. The removal of the trees reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is processed by plants. The trees also require fuel to transport and process the material into new paper. The fuel burned is released into the environment as greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Not recycling paper increases the amount of new paper that is produced. The new paper requires logging to harvest trees and contributes to deforestation when the trees are not logged from a sustainable timber farm. The removal of the trees changes the native landscape into an area that is no longer forest. This contributes to the destabilization of river banks and increase in agricultural land use, which causes chemical herbicides and pesticides to runoff into the water system.
Paper that does not reach recycling facilities must be processed by the environment. Paper does biodegrade but the chemicals used in ink on print paper is placed into the environment. The paper also enters landfills and must remain in the ground until it is absorbed and processed into the environment. As a product that is derived from natural plant fibers, paper does degrade at a faster rate than many other manufactured items like Styrofoam and plastics but it is more efficient to recycle the paper than to consume new paper. The amount of human waste has crowded landfills and paper that is not recycled contributes to the crowding.
Humans and Animals
Chemical leeching from ink used in some newspapers and printers increases the risk of cancer in human populations near landfills. The trees removed from the environment also displace native animals. Trees are commonly harvested in remote areas of Central and South America where indigenous peoples live. The displacement of the people and animals leaves the land open for development and discourages protection after the damage becomes visible.