Approximately 400 million metric tons of paper is produced and consumed globally each year. Current usage demands are just over 2 pieces of paper per hour per person, for each person on Earth. As many have noted the “paperless” office uses as much, if not more paper than before the advent of computers, but paper is more than just office supplies. Paper bags, packaging, gift wrap, paper towels, labels, newspapers, coloring books, candy wrappers, and magazines – the modern world is full of paper. Even money is made of paper.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) compiles an annual report on international Pulp and Paper Capacities. The inclusive data sets are from self-reporting surveys of pulp and paper production capacities within 30 participating countries* representing 85% of the world’s paper production capabilities. Category breakdowns for products across the spectrum are included.
China and Hungary were the only two countries to report producing paper pulp from straw (0.190, and 3.028 million metric tons respectively). While five countries contributed to the 1.287 million metric tons of “bagasse pulp” produced in 2015. Bagasse is the name for crushed sugar cane used to make paper pulp. The FAO report includes statistics on types of papers such as global production totals for fluting paper, the stuff used to make the ridges inside corrugated cardboard. There are three categories of fluting paper, actually and packaging materials comprise some 55% of the industry.
What Countries Make the Most Paper?
Statistics available for paper and paperboard production show the top paper producing countries in the world. The top ten countries for total paper production rank as follows:
Coming in at 8.840 million metric tons total pulp paper production, Italy takes tenth place. The Italian paper industry is growing and Italian paper making technology is recognized as leading edge. The Lucca region has been producing paper since the 13th century and is the only official “paper district” recognized in Europe.
With 70% of its land forested, and 80% of its forests in active use, Sweden’s timber and paper industries use 1% of their forest resources annually. The country produced a total of 10.165 million metric tons of paper in 2015. Swedish industry invests SEK 2.3 billion in research, and another SEK 2 billion in government funding is invested in forestry science at colleges, institutes, and universities. Since the 1980s, as a result of the country’s determination to refine forest industries, pulp and paper mills have reduced organic materials in the water system by 90%, reduced sulphur compound emissions by 90%, and increased production by 30%.
The paper industry in Canada dates to the early 1800 and centers around Ontario and Quebec. Declining production numbers drop Canada to eighth place at 10.266 million metric tons of paper for 2015.
Finland’s forest-cluster industry has established flexible operating models to encourage workers from vocational training schools and research universities to work together towards increasing professional competence, improving job satisfaction, and benefiting global environmental efforts. The paper production aspect of Finnish forestry produced 10.310 million metric tons of paper and paperboard.
With a reputation for reforestation, the Brazilian paper industry is responsible for 10.357 million metric tons of paper. Paper and pulp mills in Brazil hold world records. A mill in the Mato Grosso do Sul province is said to be the world’s largest single-line mill. It uses plantation eucalyptus for raw material, and produces kraft paper. In Três Lagoas, another Brazilian mill keeps breaking its own world records for daily pulp production.
5. Republic of Korea
South Korean paper manufacturing has not decreased as greatly as analysts feared. Production numbers for 2015 indicate 11.569 million metric tons of paper, only a slight drop from the 11.653 million metric tons produced by the Republic of Korea in 2014.
Although not the world’s top producer of paper goods at 22.608 million metric tons per year. Germany does rank as the world’s leading exporter of paper. Increasing demands for packaging, a main component of German paper exports, keep the country’s paper manufacturing sector strong.
The Japanese regard their traditional papermakers as national treasures, and it is easy to see why when looking at beautiful art papers like Chiyogami, Unryu, or Ito-iri. The paper manufacturing industry in Japan has experienced some decline as technology reduced their domestic demand for paper products. However, with paper production at 26.228 million metric tons in 2015, Japan surpasses 7 other top ten countries and ranks third.
2. United States of America
Begun in 1730, the paper industry in the United States is older than the country itself. Formerly the world’s top paper producer as well as top consumer, US paper takes second position with 72.397 million metric tons of paper produced. Recovered fiber, that is recycled or reclaimed paper accounts for 66.8% of the paper consumed in the US. In 2015 the country recovered 52 million tons, or 315 pounds of paper per person in the United States.
In 2004 China ranked second with 49.5 million metric tons, just eleven years later the growing Chinese paper industry has more than doubled to produce 107.100 million metric tons of paper in 2015. That includes 8.850 million metric tons of household and sanitary paper. That’s a lot of tissue. China’s paper export sales also increased, with a gain of 46.1% from 2011 to 2015. Continued growth predictions position the country to overtake Germany as the number one paper exporter in the next few years.
A Billion-Dollar Global Industry
From the first oddly ridged papyrus paper of Egypt or the ancient hand-made Asian “rice papers" to modern embossed invitation, business cards, coffee-filters, and poster plastered dorm room – the art of paper making has become so much a part of daily life it seems almost invisible. Yet it is a fascinating and massive, billion-dollar global industry that many paper manufacturers have taken advantage of.
*The 30 participating countries for the 2015 FAO survey are: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and United States of America.