Twenty years ago forests were vanishing worldwide. The developing world lost 200m hectares between 1980 and 1995, and in a climate of ecological panic the Forest Stewardship Council (fsc.org) – a not-for-profit alliance between NGOs, government, and paper and timber players – originated in California.
There has been a decline in global deforestation, thanks partly to the increased use of recycled paper and the purchasing of paper products that are certified as coming from responsibly managed forests. This has been driven by consumers like you. Still, deforestation remains high.
You are trying to choose between two different systems of producing less wasteful paper. Both have merits. Recycling one tonne of paper would power a home for nine months, save 7,000 gallons of water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one metric tonne of carbon equivalent (CO2e). We also “get it” – put the paper in the recycling bin, close the loop by buying recycled, and hey presto: virgin trees have been saved.
Meanwhile, the FSC uses a system of inspecting and tracking timber and pulp right through the chain. So far, 174m hectares of forests have met its strict criteria. Violence and the displacement of indigenous peoples are also prohibited in its chain. This is crucial: forests support 1.6 billion of the poorest people in the world.
The 2010 documentary Sustainable on Paper, by Leo Broers and An-Katrien Lecluyse, exposed a certified plantation in Brazil as a eucalyptus monoculture polluting local communities. Anecdotal evidence from the paper industry suggests that printers are put off by hefty fees to certify as FSC. Just 0.05m hectares of FSC-certified forest are owned by indigenous communities (compared to 50.5m hectares owned privately). But the WWFstill considers FSC certification the only credible one (above the purely recycled).
I suggest that rather than choosing between the two you look for both, as paper products increasingly offer both FSC-certified virgin fibre and recycled content (also certified). OK, so this is not the clear-cut answer you were looking for – but the situation with our forests isn’t clear cut either.