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Paper Forest Grows Roots Around the Country

2014-08-16 11:19:22

The project to use money from recycling paper in order to sow seedlings proves to be a great success. Claudia Catana already transformed almost 350 tonnes of waste paper into thousands of real trees.

After repeated failures in accessing funds to give life to an old project, Claudia Catana "sowed" "The Tree" with zero resource. 

She would collect waste paper from Bucharest citizens and would take it to a waste collection  centre using her friend's Matiz or a Fiat lent to her after five o'clock by the NGO she had been working at for eight years.

She intended to use the money she would earn from collecting waste paper  to buy seedlings and sow them in parks or in deforested parts of the country.

"This is what <> actually is. I am collecting paper and cardboard from various companies or from regular people, take them to waste collection centres, receive money for this service and use this money to buy seedlings that I then sow together with volunteers in places where they are needed", said Claudia Catana, project initiator.

They began with only a car

Everything started in April last year and the success met by " The Tree" proved to be beyond all expectations. More and more companies called to have their paper collected so that in just a few months, Claudia and the other three initial members of the project - her friend and two volunteers -  could barely cover all the requests.

The Matiz had become almost useless, considering the quantity of paper they had to collect on a daily basis.

"At one point, our fame surpassed us and everybody wanted to give us paper but we couldn't collect it", said Claudia.

"Some even suggested to give up if we couldn't do things right. We had started convinced we would not be successful" she added.

However, in a year and a half, "The Tree" grew roots. They were joined by sponsors who made available to them larger cars and who helped them take the project to a national level.

Although started in Bucharest, " The Paper Tree" reached Cluj, Craiova, Constanta and recently, Timisoara. Now over 650 companies and dozens of people donate paper to "The Tree" in Bucharest alone.

Ten kilograms worth of paper equal one seedling tree.

"The Paper Tree" caught on so fast because it is a simple idea; so simple that I wonder how come no one had thought about it before" said Claudia. 

She told us that once the project had been launched, she realized that people wanted to recycle  but they had to be offered a minimum of infrastructure, so that no great effort was needed on their part. 

"I thought we would have to knock on companies' doors and we would have to beg them to recycle. Surprisingly, ever since the beginning, I have never sent a request for entering the project."

"All companies approached us" said Claudia. Now, drivers of "The Tree" collect a minimum of 50 kilograms from companies. "At first we didn't set any limit and sometimes we'd be called to pick up four envelopes" she added.

Ever since, they collected almost 350 tonnes of paper and cardboard and with the money they earned, Claudia bought seedling trees and "The Tree" volunteers - thousands, signed up on the website - planted trees in four parks in Bucharest and in Autumn they re-forested a deforested area near Hateg, at Raul de Mori. In Bucharest, a kilogram of paper can reach 24 bani but in Craiova it never goes over 6 bani.

Claudia intends to channel her resources towards planting trees in the mountainside and not in urban centres. " Last year we planted 1.000 seedlings in the city but with the same amount of money we could have planted 10.000 in the mountainside. City trees cost more because they are bigger" she said. With ten kilograms of paper Claudia buys one seedling for planting in mountain areas.

Verde Cafe, "The Tree" HQ

Until recently "The Tree" didn't have headquarters and people who wanted to meet those who "recycled their paper" couldn't really do so. 

Claudia knew that she didn't have the resources to rent a place so she started thinking about the possibility of acquiring a space that would finance itself. Hence, "Verde Cafe" ( "Green Cafe" in English ), a cosy coffee place, which, on alternative rock rhythms, hosts conferences on environment and gathers people interested in "the little tree".

Recycling saves trees

Approximately three tonnes of trees -that is 20 trees - are necessary for fabricating one tonne of paper. Twelve trees are necessary for obtaining one tonne of newspaper. By recycling one tonne of paper,  seventeen trees are saved. Up to 80% less energy is used in recycling paper than in manufacturing it from the raw material. Paper can be recycled seven times at most. After the seventh time new fibre needs to be added so that the final product does not lose its characteristics. Almost 15 hectares of woods can be reforested from 100 tonnes of collected paper. By recycling one tonne of paper, 30.000 litres of water are saved as well as 4.200 kWh of energy and 2,5 m3 of space destined to waste storage.

Too little green space per inhabitant

Only 26% of our country is forested - below European average. Green space per inhabitant in Romania is also below the norm set by Brussels. 

While in Bucharest the average green space per inhabitant amounts to eight sq m, in Stockholm it rises up to 82 sq m/inhabitant, considering that the EU set a minimum of 26 sq m /inhabitant while WHO approximately 50 sq m.

Nevertheless, forests continue to fall victims of their owners and urban green space is being reduced for office buildings and parking lots.

Saving a small patch of forest

Statistics can be depressing, that is why Claudia Catana decided to reverse the proportions.     " We would have liked to say saving the planet. But it is too much. We limit ourselves to talk ( and to act ) about saving a patch of forest. This is what we want to do... saving and planting trees.

We are convinced that this project, once started, will fuel itself in perpetual motion" wrote Claudia in her project journal. She says she managed to do at least three good things with "The Paper Tree" : she convinced people to recycle, she harnessed 350 tonnes of paper and planted at least 5.000 trees, with 10.000 more to go.

All in all, she is ready to acknowledge the least successful parts of "The Tree". 

"Many times people would call us and we couldn't get there. So people would get upset with us and they were right, but we literally couldn't come through with the available resources at that time" she said.

On Christmas, Claudia intends to buy trees in pots that she would sell and in exchange for a sum of money, to receive the trees back after the holidays so that volunteers of "The Tree" can plant them in a forest.



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