What Consumers Don’t Know About the Sustainability of Paper Products

New Two Sides Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Underestimate Print and Paper Products’ Unique Contributions to a Circular Economy 

Download the press release here.

CHICAGO – April 22, 2021 – As U.S. consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of the products they use every day, there remains a wide gap between perception and reality when it comes to the sustainability of paper products. This according to a new survey commissioned by Two Sides North America and conducted by global research firm Toluna.  The survey, “Paper’s Place in a Post-Pandemic World,” sought to explore and better understand consumer perceptions, behaviors and preferences related to the sustainability of paper products.

“More and more consumers are factoring environmental impacts into their purchasing decisions, but all too often those decisions are based on pop culture myths and sensational, headline-driven journalism rather than fact,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “As attention turns to developing a more sustainable, circular economy, the paper and paper-based packaging industry has a great, fact-based environmental story to tell: Paper is one the few products that can already claim to have a truly circular life cycle.”

What’s happening to the size of U.S. forest area?

Paper use is often blamed for forest loss, and 60% of those surveyed believe U.S. forests are shrinking. The fact: U.S. forest area grew by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment. That’s an area equivalent to 1,200 NFL football fields every day. Contrary to the popular belief that manufacturing and using paper destroys forests, the demand for sustainably sourced paper and paper-based packaging creates a powerful financial incentive for landowners not only to manage and harvest their land responsibly, but also to keep it forested rather than converting it to non-forest uses, one of the real documented causes of forest loss.

What percentage of paper is recycled?

Paper recycling in the United States is a hands down environmental success story. But according to the survey, only 11% of consumers believe the U.S. recycling rate exceeds 60% and nearly a quarter believe it’s less that 20%.  The fact: More than two-thirds of all paper and paper-based packaging in the U.S. is recycled, and more than 90% of corrugated cardboard boxes is recycled according to the American Forest and Paper Association. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that paper is the most recycled material in the country, compared to plastics at 8.4%, glass at 26.6% and metals at 33.3%.

Is electronic communication more environmentally friendly than paper-based communication?

As the pandemic forced meetings, events and day-to-day business to online communication and consumers increasingly relied on the internet for news and information, 67% of those surveyed believe that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper-based communication. While consumers enjoy the convenience and the ability to work from home that electronic communication affords, they overlook the environmental impact of digital communication.

The facts: The EPA reports that the pulp and paper industry accounts for only 1.2% of U.S. industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and only 0.5% of total U.S. GHG emissions – which shouldn’t be surprising since two-thirds of the energy used to power U.S. paper industry operations is generated using renewable, carbon neutral biomass. In contrast, the energy consumption required for digital technologies is increasing 9% each year, and the share of digital technology in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could rise to 8% by 2025 according to The Shift Project, a carbon transition think tank.  And compared to paper’s recycling success story, the United States generates approximately 7 million metric tons of e-waste annually, but only 15% of that waste is recycled, according to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor.

“The life cycle of paper products is circular by nature,” Rowzie explains. “The raw material used to make it is perpetually regrown, the energy used to manufacture it is generated using mostly carbon-neutral biofuel, and the circle is completed as used paper is recycled into new products at a higher rate than any other material.  Even so, our survey shows that misconceptions about the sustainability of paper products are commonplace. It’s just these types of misconceptions that Two Sides was created to correct.  We believe consumers have the right to make purchasing choices based on data and hard facts, free from pop mythology and misinformation.”

For more facts about the environmental sustainability of paper and paper-based packaging, visit www.twosidesna.org.

About Two Sides North America, Inc.

Two Side North America is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging, and dispels common environmental misconceptions about paper products.  We are part of the Two Sides global network which operates across North America, South America, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Media Contact:

Kathi Rowzie, President

Two Sides North America, Inc.

P:  937-999-7729

E:  info@twosidesna.org

 

Promote the Great Sustainability Story of Print and Paper in Your Email Footer

All too often we see email footers with negative and misleading messages about the environmental impacts of print and paper. Messages like “Think before you print – Our forests will thank you” and “Please consider the environment before printing this email” imply that electronic communication always has a lower environmental impact than printed materials.

But this conclusion is not supported by credible and reliable scientific evidence. Such claims not only fail to consider the growing environmental footprint of our electronic infrastructure, but also ignore the unique sustainable features of print and paper.

Paper is made from a natural, renewable resource (wood from trees grown in sustainably managed forests) and is one of the most recycled commodities in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the energy used to produce paper in North America comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. When produced and used responsibly, print on paper is an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.

So, if you need a more convenient or permanent copy of your emails, don’t feel guilty about printing them! But be sure to recycle those you don’t need as a permanent record.

If you’d like to share the great sustainability story of print and paper in your email footer, here are a few alternatives to consider:

• Responsibly produced paper has unique sustainable features. It comes from a renewable resource and is highly recyclable. If you print, please recycle.

• The demand for sustainably produced paper supports sustainable forest management in North America. The income landowners receive for trees grown on their land encourages them to sustainably manage, renew and maintain this valuable resource.

• Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world and is made from trees grown in sustainably managed North American forests – a natural and renewable resource.

• Paper is based on a natural and renewable raw material – trees. Sustainably managed North American forests are good for the environment, providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.

• Print on paper is a practical, attractive, and sustainable communications medium. If you print, please recycle.

You can find more great email footers to promote the sustainability of print and paper here. We’ve also created an Information Sheet on Alternative Email Footers that you can download and share with your colleagues, customers and other stakeholders.

For more information and supporting facts related to our suggested email footers, be sure to check out our Two Sides Fact Sheets.

Are North American Forests Really Shrinking? What the Data Tell Us

Across all environmental issues related to the manufacture of paper-based products in North America, the harvesting of trees for wood fiber is arguably the most familiar, yet also the most misunderstood. Decades of misguided marketing messages that suggest using less paper protects forests along with deliberate anti-paper campaigns by environmental groups that twist scientific facts to suit their own agendas have left many feeling guilty for using products that are inherently sustainable. They are made from a renewable resource, are recyclable and are among the most recycled products in the world, and are manufactured using a high level of renewable energy – all key elements in a circular economy.

So, what’s the most effective way to reverse the misconceptions of those who believe the North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry is shrinking U.S. and Canadian forests? It’s simple: Show them the data.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been monitoring the world’s forests at five- to 10-year intervals since 1946. The FAO’s 2020 global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) presents a comprehensive view of the world’s forests and the ways in which this important resource changed between 1990 and 2020. The data from 236 countries were collected using commonly agreed upon terms and definitions through a transparent, traceable reporting process and a well-established network of officially nominated national representatives. These include the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Canada.

Since 1990, there has been a net loss of 440 million acres of forests globally, an area larger than the entire state of Alaska. A net change in forest area is the sum of all forest losses (deforestation) and all forest gains (forest expansion) in a given period.  FAO defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses, regardless of whether it is human-induced. FAO specifically excludes from its definition areas where trees have been removed by harvesting or logging because the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or with the aid of sustainable forestry practices.

In contrast, despite deforestation by urban development, fire, insects and other causes, total forest area in the United States actually increased and forest area in Canada has remained stable since 1990.  This is due in great part to sustainable forest management practices implemented by the North American paper and forest products industry, the highest percentage of certified forests (nearly 50%) in the world, and laws and regulations aimed at protecting forest resources.

Global Data

The world has a total forest area of around 10 billion acres or 31% of total land area. More than half (54%) of these forests are in just five countries – the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.

Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020 at 9.6 million acres, followed by South America, at 6.4 million acres.

While the net loss of 440 million acres of forest is troubling, there is some improvement in the global numbers. The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation (establishing forest where none existed previously) and the natural expansion of forests. The annual rate of net forest loss declined from 19.2 million acres in 1990–2000 to 12.8 million acres in 2000–2010 and 11.6 million acres in 2010–2020.

While an estimated 1.04 billion acres of forest have been lost worldwide to deforestation since 1990, the rate of deforestation also declined substantially. Between 2015 and 2020, the annual global rate of deforestation was estimated at around 25 million acres, down from 30 million acres between 2010 and 2015.

Globally, 54% of forests have long-term forest management plans. FAO defines forest management as the process of planning and implementing practices for the stewardship and use of forests targeted at specific environmental, economic, social and cultural objectives. Around 96% of forestlands in Europe has management plans, 64% in Asia, less than 25% in Africa and only 17% in South America.

U.S. and Canada Data

According to the 2020 FRA, the United States and Canada account for 8% and 9%, respectively, of the world’s total forest area.

In the U.S., total forest area increased by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, which averages out to the equivalent of around 1,200 NFL football fields every day. Canada’s total forest area remained relatively stable over the 30-year assessment period at approximately 857 million acres.

Approximately 59% of forestlands in North America has long-term forest management plans.

Help Spread the Word!

The North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry plays a significant role in keeping U.S. and Canadian forests sustainable for future generations, and that’s something to be very proud of.  One of the best ways to show that pride is by taking every available opportunity to bust the myth that the production of paper products destroys forests.  For more facts to help you spread the word, check out our Two Sides fact sheet on Paper Production and Sustainable Forestry here.

 

 

PAPER, PACKAGING, AND PRINT: A Sustainability Story We Love to Tell

Phil Riebel, President of Two Sides North America was recently interviewed by Cindy Woods, President and CEO of The CMO Team, a creative and content marketing agency located in Marietta, Georgia, specializing in marketing solutions for print organizations. The resulting article headlined PAPER, PACKAGING, AND PRINT: A Sustainability Story We Love to Tell has been featured in Spring 2019 editions of various print and graphics company-branded publications throughout the US.

Riebel focused the conversation on responsible forest management and the recyclability of paper products. He shared that there is a strong story to tell in North America about how forests are being better managed, despite the negative imagery in the media. When it comes to recycling, Riebel says few products are as recyclable as paper and packaging. To date in North America, Two Sides has approached 177 companies about their negative claims around the use of paper, and 118 of them (66%) have removed those claims after becoming more educated on the topic. “We’ve had several decades to research, report, and act on the full impact our manufacturing processes have had on the environment, and the research continues,” says Riebel. “We can say with certainty that it has driven some of the strongest and most successful environmental-responsibility changes any industry has undergone in ages, and there is more to come.”

You will find the entire article published in the spring edition of one:one magazine as well as other print and graphics company publications around the US.

335 Leading Corporations Remove Misleading ‘Go Green’ Claims

LONDON, UK (November 13, 2018) – At the annual meeting of Two Sides’ Country Managers in London on November 5, 2018, representatives from Australia, Europe, New Zealand, North America, South America and South Africa determined to continue efforts to stop organizations from making misleading, anti-print and paper claims in their customer communications.

Since its inception, Two Sides’ anti-greenwash campaign has investigated 921 organizations worldwide. Of these, over two-thirds were found to be using unsubstantiated claims regarding paper’s impact on the environment, usually in breach of local advertising regulations. After being challenged by Two Sides, a total of 335 organizations have now removed or changed their messaging.

In a joint statement, Two Sides’ Country Managers stated:  “We are thrilled to be able to report the latest global anti-greenwash results. The Anti-Greenwash campaign is such an important initiative because without Two Sides’ intervention there would be no other body holding these organizations to account. But despite the success of the campaign, as well as clear rules on unsubstantiated environmental claims, greenwash tactics are still commonplace. Everyday, new claims are brought to the attention of Two Sides, from some of the world’s largest companies telling tens-of-millions of their customers that paper is bad for the environment.”

Common consumer misconceptions about print and paper are being reinforced by service providers as they increasingly encourage their customers to switch to electronic bills, statements and correspondence. The incentive to switch is often based on unfounded environmental claims such as ‘Go Green – Go Paperless’ and ‘Choose e-billing and help save a tree.’

Not only are these claims misleading, but the drive to digital is not without environmental impacts and also not welcomed by many consumers.

In a survey commissioned by Two Sides, over 10,000 consumers around the globe were asked about their preferences for print. Key findings include:

  • 89% believe they have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronically) from financial organizations and service providers
  • 77% believe they should not be charged more for choosing a paper bill or statement
  • 73% keep hard copies of important documents filed at home, as they believe this is the safest and most secure way of storing information
  • 69% agree going ‘paperless’ is not really ‘paperless’ because they regularly have to print out documents at home
  • 62% agree incentives to switch to digital because it is ‘better for the environment’ are actually because the sender wants to save money

Two Sides’ Country Managers remark:  “Two Sides, of course, recognizes the benefits of digital communication in today’s ever-online world, but we must not force change as a blanket policy on all consumers, particularly under the guise of misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claims.  Two Sides asks all services providers to take a fair and honest approach to their communications and ensure that consumers remain free to choose paper, without charge or difficulty.”

If you see instances of Greenwash messages, please send the details to greenwash@twosides.info.

About Two Sides

Two Sides is a not-for-profit, global initiative promoting the unique sustainable and attractive attributes of print, paper and paper packaging. Two Sides’ members span the entire print, paper and packaging value chain including: forestry, pulp, paper, packaging, inks and chemicals, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes and postal operators. Membership in Two Sides demonstrates your organization’s commitment to the environment and continuing desire to improve practices.

For more information about the Anti-Greenwash campaign, or to learn more about Two Sides, please contact us: 

Australia and New Zealand: Kellie Northwood, kellie@twosides.org.au
Austria: Patrick Mader, pm@twosides.info
Brazil: Fabio Arruda Mortara, fam@twosides.org.br
France: Jan Le Moux, jlm@twosides.info
Germany: Anne-Katrin Kohlmorgen, akk@twosides.info
Italy: Massimo Ramunni, italy@twosides.info
Netherlands: Erik Timmermans, e.timmermans@papierenkarton.nl
Nordics: Magnus Thorkildsen, nordic@twosides.info
North America: Phil Riebel, pnr@twosides.info
South Africa: Deon Joubert, dj@za.twosides.info
UK: Jonathan Tame, jpt@twosides.info

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