Recycling vs Digitisation. Is there a clear winner?

The big problem lies in defining what is paper. There are many different types.

Paper can be made from hard or soft wood or any combination of the two. It can also contain wood chips or sawdust. Trees can also be tall or short, wide or thin, young or old. So is there such a thing as a “typical” tree?

There are also a number of different paper production processes – kraft, freesheet, mechanical or groundwood, all depending on what quality paper you are producing from newsprint to coated glossy magazines.

Yes, it’s complicated.

If we take an average mix of hard and soft wood, 40 feet tall and around 8 inches in diameter using the freesheet method that equates to roughly 12 trees needed to produce one ton of low-grade newsprint paper – or 24 trees to produce the same weight of office copy paper.

To work the figure out for recycling you multiply the number of trees required to make the paper you want, then multiply by the percentage of recycled content in the paper. So one ton of 50% recycled office copy paper would save 12 trees. That’s half of the number required for non-recycled copy paper.

Are you with us so far?

Now let’s consider the effect of digitisation. Using the same calculations we know that it takes one ‘average’ tree to produce 8,333 sheets of paper.

The CaseLines system currently contains the equivalent of 100 million paper pages. So our system alone has already saved just over 12,000 trees. But it gets better.

Most criminal cases require six or more printed bundles. So the true number of pages is at least 600 million, which equates to saving 72,000 trees.

How is your brain coping?

If you then factor in the statistic that the number of digital pages we store is increasing by five million per month (or 30 million pages if you include the now unnecessary copies), that’s another 43,200 trees saved every year.

Plainly, recycling is a vital step in helping preserve the world’s trees. But when you look at the numbers, digitisation is the outright winner.

The facts and (rather complicated) figures prove it.

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