What is the Future of Paper?

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 21 years and can't wait to share my perspective on all things direct mail. I'm currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Letter Jacket Envelopes and deal with tasks from managing the website, facilitating conversations with customers, and much more!

Have you ever just sat and wondered “what is the future of paper?” It’s a perfectly understandable question since scientists and technologists have been trumpeting the soon-to-be death of paper for the last forty years. In fact, if paper could talk, it might very happily paraphrase a famous quotation attributed to Mark Twain… ”the news of my demise has been greatly exaggerated.” Admittedly, this is a very rough paraphrase of the famous quote but it is very fitting since paper was supposed to be a distant memory well into the 21st century. But in spite of the death knell that has been sounded repeatedly since the 1970’s…paper is still very much here and going strong. In fact, paper has not only returned from the dead but is once again gaining in popularity. We will look at the future of paper through various lenses including current usage levels, consumer preferences, and sustainability.

The United States, as a nation, uses a lot of paper. As recently as 2012, the average American used the equivalent of five 40-foot-tall trees worth of paper each year, which ranked us seventh in overall paper consumption worldwide. The majority of our nation’s paper usage comes from office work which generates some 4 million tons of paper-waste each year, according to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA).

North America’s Love Affair With Paper

This amount of paper usage makes perfect sense when you consider that paper is one of the most renewable and reusable materials on the planet. It is also the most recycled product in North America. A record 67.2% of paper was recovered for recycling in 2016. The annual amount of paper recovered for recycling has more than doubled since 1990 and has met or exceeded 63% for the past 8 years. But this figure can still be improved upon. The target goal for the paper industry as a whole is a 70% recovery rate by 2020. This is a very reachable goal.

Why we prefer paper is easy to understand. Years of experience with computers have only served to underscore the desirability of paper. All the heady promises of a paper-free environment disappear in the blink of an eye when hours, weeks and even months of work vanish from your computer when the power goes out or the operating system crashes. And, searching for an invoice through a maze of folders protected by passwords you may or may not remember can be both time-consuming and frustrating. This same task is much more easily accomplished when you can open a paper folder and find that same invoice, only this time in lovely, physical, printed form.

The future of paper is reflected in a new survey by Two Sides North America. This survey indicates a clear consumer preference for paper over digital communications in several areas. Seventy-nine percent of people surveyed prefer the ease of reading on paper versus reading from a digital screen. Consumers also want to be able to receive paper bills and correspondence without any additional charge. This is in part because of the aforementioned ease of reading on paper versus a screen (79%) but also because of unreliable Internet access (49%). 

Custom Printed Envelopes and Sustainability

Two Sides North America has also provided some astounding and terrific information on the sustainability of paper. In North America, it takes less than 2 seconds to grow the fiber needed for a standard #10 custom printed envelope (on 100 acres of managed forest). We also grow more trees than we harvest. Forest area in the U.S. has increased by 5,800 NFL football fields per day between 2007 and 2012… an overall increase of more than 14 million acres. It is a reality that the greatest incentive for maintaining and retaining our nation’s forests is a stable market for paper and other wood products. Avoiding paper use could actually result in the significant loss of forest land.

The future of paper actually seems to be growing rather than disappearing as once predicted. The written word, on paper, has a tangible and tactile presence that can’t be replaced by information on a computer screen. For every Kindle enthusiast, there is someone who still prefers to read a book or magazine or write a letter. It is a calmer, more permanent way of experiencing the world than through the fast-forward hypersonic rush of information coming at us from every side in the rest of our lives.

Letter Jacket Envelopes plays an important part in the future of paper. So, when you choose to celebrate having paper available whenever and however you need it, make sure to take advantage of Letter Jacket’s high quality envelopes, available in multiple sizes, shapes and colors.

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