2014-02-13

The Impact of a printed Wikipedia on Trees

When talking about our Wikipedia book project, some people argue that printing on paper is "a waste of trees" and harmful to the environment. We do not take those accusations lightly. The environmental impact of paper is significant and must not be ignored. In this blog post, we want to explore the impact of our project and try to analyze the consequences.

How much paper do we need?

Wikipedia itself estimates that printing the complete English Wikipedia will take roughly 2,000 pages volumes. After a few experiments, we came to the conclusion that we could reduce this number significantly while still creating a legible and pleasing "encyclop√¶dic" layout. 

We estimated that we could fit the whole English Wikipedia in about 1,000 A4 sized books with 1,200 pages each. As we print on the front- an backside of a page, this amounts to 600,000 sheets of A4 paper. Common 80g paper weighs 5g per sheet, so in total the weight of the paper amounts to a whopping 3 metric tons.

How many trees will be used for printing Wikipedia?

Now, let's try to estimate the number of trees used for printing Wikipedia with some back-of-the envelope calculations:

For the production of 1 ton of paper 2 tons of wood are necessary which again equals approximately 4 cubic meters. Now, let's assume that we have a pine tree that is about 45 meters high and has a diameter of 0.5 meters. This amounts to a volume of approximately 9 cubic meters of wood. Therefore, paper used in this project requires about 12 cubic meters of raw wood. So we are talking about roughly 1.3 trees that need to be harvested to print Wikipedia.

In reality of course, paper is not made from valuable tree logs (which are used for furniture or floors) but from inexpensive (and otherwise mostly useless) wood chips and saw dust.

What we will do to neutralize the effect of our paper consumption

In our project (and in all PediaPress books) we only print on paper from FSC certified resources. The FSC sets minimum standards for responsible and sustainable forestry. 

In Europe, sustainable forestry can be traced back to the 15th century. In the last 100 years, the area covered with forests in Europe tripled. From 1990 to 2010 the biomass of forests has increased by 30% according to the European Environment Agency. 

Responsible Forestry plays an important role in cutting CO2 emissions by cultivating, harvesting and especially burning wood instead of fossile energy sources. 

As only trees from certified forestry will be used for this project we can safely assume that every tree we consume for printing Wikipedia will be replanted. 

Nevertheless, we will make sure that at least ten new trees will be planted when our campaign is successful - just in case.

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