Hey Mr. Green, What About All The Water It Takes To Make Paper?

By Bob Schildgen

February 10, 2015


Hey Mr. Green,

Does it take a lot of water to manufacture paper, and should we worry about this in a time of widespread drought? 

--Althea in Boulder, Colorado

U.S. paper manufacturers use about six gallons of water to make a pound of paper, according to the American Forest and Paper Association and other sources, most of which is returned to watersheds. More than a drop in the bucket, but, compared with other water uses, not exactly profligate either. 

For context, close to a third of the water drawn in the United States is used to cool power plants, and more of that is lost to evaporation alone than is used by the paper industry. Another 30 percent of our water goes to irrigation. 

Of course, none of this is an excuse for squandering paper--which, like all resources, should be used conservatively. Nor does it let you off the hook from recycling every last scrap, because recycling can drastically reduce water demand--for some grades of paper, by 85 percent or more. But if you're an old fossil or young retro who wants to enjoy the morning paper guilt-free, you can easily make amends for its water use by wasting less energy. Changing your standard lightbulbs to LEDs, for example, would be a great start to offsetting the water used to make your newspaper.

This article has been corrected from the print version.