Eco-Conscious Economy: Consumer Data Reveals Young Shoppers Prioritize Sustainability

Generation Z and Millennial consumers are more likely to pay a premium for products that are legitimately sustainable in some way, from materials to packaging to delivery. The third annual Consumer Sustainability Survey from Blue Yonder, a digital supply chain platform, confirms that sustainability remains a priority for all consumers. However, younger shoppers are more definitive and consistent in their choices, with 85% of Gen Z and 84% of Millennials reporting that sustainability considerations are important to them. 

“It’s especially promising that so many respondents are willing to spend more for sustainable products, given that price concerns, exacerbated by the ongoing challenge of inflation, have marked conversations around consumer behavior over the last year,” said Saskia van Gendt, Blue Yonder’s chief sustainability officer, in a statement. “Their willingness to spend more should send a clear message to brands and retailers that investing in sustainable solutions and practices is worthwhile, not only for the planet but also for maintaining consumer loyalty and trust.” 

78% of U.S.-based poll respondents said that sustainability concerns are very or somewhat important to them when choosing to buy a product or shop at a retailer. And 70% of consumers said they have shopped at a retailer promoting their products as sustainable at least once in the past six months. Almost half (47%) reported that their interest in shopping sustainably increased in the last year, and 40% said they would pay up to an additional 5%, and 25% said they would pay an additional 10% or more. 

Skepticism about sustainability claims remains high

Interestingly, consumer skepticism remains high regarding sustainability marketing and messaging. If consumers are going to pay more, they need to verify claims for themselves. 

Nearly half (48%) of respondents said they can only “sometimes” trust a brand’s sustainability claims, depending on its message, brand reputation and history. More than one-third (35%) of respondents said they do not trust brands’ claims, citing the need for their own additional research (21%) and the belief that brands tout sustainability regardless of whether it aligns with their actions (14%). 

An ESW report released in April said that US consumers are less sustainability-minded than they were just one year ago. The overall score dropped from 51 on the index to 49, and lagging behind the global mean of 55. However, US Millennials (59) and Gen Z (57) scored above the global mean, whereas Gen X (50), and Boomers (35) scored lower. 

Globally, consumer trust in sustainability claims is low, which could be adding to lowered interest in sustainability overall. According to The Blue Yonder survey, 70% reported shopping sustainably in the last year, vs. 74% in 2023. The ESW numbers reveal that, globally, more than half of the consumers surveyed (55%) said they are more aware of greenwashing than they were a year ago, and 27% said they considered a brand’s environmental transparency record when making a purchase. 

Consumer trust and truth in advertising are key to a healthy economy, which is why greenwashing is so harmful. If consumers can’t discern which companies are truly engaged in ethical environmentally-friendly commerce, they won’t support the industries making the most positive impact. To that end, Two Sides has engaged with more than 300 North American companies to combat misinformation by changing or removing misleading environmental claims used to promote electronic services over paper-based communications. Globally, the Two Sides Anti-greenwashing Campaign has persuaded more than 1,180 companies, government agencies and other organizations to remove statements that are unsubstantiated. 

Greener packaging is a priority

According to the Blue Yonder survey, 47% of consumers said they would be likely or very likely to pay more for greener shipping options such as lower carbon footprint delivery and sustainable packaging. 61% of consumers said using recycled content or recycled packaging was the most important environmental practice a retailer or brand should adopt.  

According to TSNA’s own research released in 2023, in addition to expressing an overall preference for paper-based packaging, 56% of consumers prefer that items ordered online be delivered in paper packaging, up from 52% in 2021. 50% say they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper-based packaging, up from 41%. 47% would avoid shopping with a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce its use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39%. 

Overall, the data underscores consistent consumer behavior toward sustainability, particularly among younger generations. Generation Z and Millennials’ willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products sends a clear message to brands and retailers about the importance of investing in sustainable solutions. Greener options and the use of recyclable materials have become increasingly pivotal, with a significant portion of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable options.  

While skepticism persists regarding sustainability claims, consumers prioritize transparency and ethical practices, highlighting the necessity for truthful advertising. Ultimately, fostering consumer trust and aligning with environmentally friendly practices not only benefits the planet but also strengthens brand loyalty, thus contributing to a healthier economy.

From Plastic to Paper: The Eco-Conscious Evolution of North American Packaging Trends

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the packaging industry. First in the UK and Europe, and now US and Canadian brands are moving towards paper-based packaging solutions. This transition reflects a growing corporate commitment to environmental sustainability, increased regulations and penalties for using plastic, and a desire to meet consumer demand for packaging that is both sustainable and easier to recycle, knowing it is not going into landfills.

All of these motivators drive a growing movement to support a more circular economy, which is one based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of sustainably continuing production.

Environmental Consciousness Drives Change

One of the primary reasons behind the shift towards paper-based packaging is a heightened awareness of environmental issues, particularly the impact of plastic pollution on the planet. While plastic packaging is convenient and versatile, it poses significant environmental challenges. Plastic is made from non-renewable petroleum-based materials – it is non-biodegradable, contributes to litter and marine pollution, is difficult to recycle and is harmful to humans and wildlife.

Paper-based packaging offers several environmental benefits, making it an attractive alternative to plastic. Unlike plastic, paper is renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable, making it a more sustainable option from a lifecycle perspective. Additionally, advancements in paper packaging technology have led to the development of innovative products that offer the same functionality and protection as traditional plastic packaging, further driving the adoption of paper-based materials.

Consumer Preferences Lead the Way

Consumer preferences play a crucial role in shaping the packaging choices made by brands. Surveys have consistently shown that most consumers prefer paper-based packaging over plastic for its perceived environmental benefits. This shift in consumer sentiment has prompted brands to reevaluate their packaging strategies and prioritize materials that are perceived as more eco-friendly. Additionally, market trends indicate a significant increase in demand for paper-based packaging, driven by concerns about plastic pollution and a desire for more sustainable alternatives.

A survey commissioned by Two Sides North America revealed that 55% of US consumers would buy more from brands and retailers who remove plastic from their packaging, up from 49% in 2021. Half said they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging, up from 41% over the past two years, and 47% said they would consider avoiding a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39% in 2021. In addition, disposal decision fatigue is real–consumers preferred paper/cardboard packaging for being home-compostable (59%) and easier to recycle (43%).

Corporate sustainability goals driven by consumer demand are a primary motivator in the shift from plastic to paper. Wayne Towle, sales manager at fiber-packaging supplier Planet Paper Box Group, recently told Packaging Digest, “All the major players in all the major CPG companies have some form of sustainability goals factored into their business model. It is becoming more of a necessity for companies to do that.”

Government Regulations Hasten Shift

Recent data from pulp and paper business intelligence company Fisher International cites several market factors driving the switch to paper packaging, including legislation in the U.S., Canada, and across the globe.

“Certain single-use plastics (e.g., drinking straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bottles, plates, cups, utensils, shopping bags) have been identified as leading contributors to plastic pollution and are the target of most legislation.”

Twenty-three states in the US have some form of plastic bag legislation, and several cities have banned plastic straws. In Canada, the Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) were introduced as a larger comprehensive plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Big Brands Make the Switch

Several brands based or prominent in North America have embraced paper-based packaging as part of their commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. These include L’Oreal, Zappos, Pringles, Absolute, Apple, Nestle, Samsung, and Amazon. Although these are U.S.-based business giants, packaging innovation has often been initiated in Europe due to stricter penalties and regulations around plastic-based packaging. But North American roll-outs have picked up steam.

Iconic fast-food chain McDonald’s announced plans to phase in more sustainable, recycled, and recyclable alternatives to their current packaging, including paper-based materials. According to the company, which serves 69 million people worldwide each year, McDonald’s has set a goal of sourcing 100% of its primary guest packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources and expanding the reduction and recycling of guest packaging by the end of 2025.

An Amazon facility in Ohio uses machine learning to customize box sizes to eliminate plastic packaging fillers. The research was launched in Washington State’s Amazon innovation center, and upgrades will roll out in North America this year. Technology like this could skyrocket the use of paper and cardboard packaging across industries.

Paper Fits the Bill

In so many ways, paper has become the ideal packaging material, offering businesses, manufacturers and consumers a simplified experience that cuts cost and time and is naturally sustainable.

Consumer preference. Consumers prefer goods packaged in materials that are easy to recycle or safe to compost. They don’t want the inconvenience of stripping off labels or driving to a retail store to recycle plastic bags and clamshell containers.

Circular economy. Paper is a bedrock of a circular economy as it promotes the reuse and regeneration of packaging. Paper can be recycled five to seven times, on average, before fibers become unusable. Paper is biodegradable and compostable. In fact, clean cardboard adds valuable dry materials to the composting process.

Sustainable forestry. The US paper industry promotes sustainable forestry and depends on sustainable forest growth to provide a reliable wood fiber supply. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to continue managing their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. In the United States, we grow more trees than we harvest, and US forests are a renewable natural resource and are not shrinking. Net forest area in the United States increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020 – an area equivalent to approximately 1,200 NFL football fields every day.

In Canada, all areas harvested on public land must be reforested through replanting or natural regeneration, and about 90% of Canada’s forests are on public land. Canada leads the world in third-party sustainable forest certification.

Energy consumption. According to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), purchased energy is the third highest operating cost for the paper and wood products industry, motivating the industry to increase energy efficiency and use less energy overall. In 2020, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generated 58% of the electricity needed to power their mills. They surpassed their collective goal for energy efficiency by reducing purchased energy by more than 13% between 2005 and 2020. Among the sustainability goals outlined in AF&PA’s Better Practices, Better Planet 2030, one is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

Similar efforts are being made in Canada to become more energy efficient. Most of the energy used at Canadian pulp and paper mills is generated using renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. Since the early 1990s, the Canadian forest sector has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70%.

Choosing Paper

The shift towards paper-based packaging among US and Canadian brands reflects consumers, governments, and corporations’ broadening commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. By choosing paper, these brands are not only meeting consumer demand for more eco-friendly products but also contributing to the preservation of the planet for future generations.

Paper vs. Plastic Packaging: Two Sides Responds to The Washington Times

The Washington Times recently featured an opinion piece by an advocate for the plastics industry that included multiple unsubstantiated environmental claims about paper-based packaging. Two Sides North America submitted the following letter to the editors in response.

To the editors:

Why is it that whenever someone wants to extoll the sustainability benefits of plastic packaging products, they feel compelled to claim that plastics have “a lower environmental impact” than paper-based packaging (America succumbs to plastic paranoia, September 26) instead of simply making a fact-based environmental case? Could it be because paper products are the gold standard for circularity and true sustainability?

In this case, the author makes gratuitous claims that plastic packaging “helps the planet” and “saves tens of millions of trees every year,” citing “real scientists” from Sweden and Denmark to back up his claims of plastic’s green superiority. In doing so, he invites comparisons that, of necessity, must also catalog the environmental consequences of plastic packaging, from the extraction of finite resources and energy use to the fate of final products.

To start with, the many different resins used to make plastics are derived from non-renewable fossil fuels, namely natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining (U.S. Energy Information Administration). And single-use plastics also are incredibly energy-intensive to produce. In fact, plastic production accounts for more than 3% of total U.S. energy consumption, using roughly the same amount of oil as the global aviation industry, which in turn generates significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (U.S. Department of Energy).

And while Americans toss millions of tons of plastic packaging into their recycling bins, not much of it actually gets recycled. A recycling PR campaign recently launched by the plastics industry says that 6 billion pounds (3 million tons) of plastic get recycled each year, but that’s only about 9% of the total plastic produced annually in the U.S. according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  There are just too many different types of plastic, each with different recycling requirements, so they can’t be combined and recycled together. Building out the infrastructure to effectively collect, sort and recycle them poses extremely difficult logistical and economic challenges – challenges that are not likely to be met any time soon, if ever.

Given the finite resources and large amounts of fossil fuel energy used to produce them along with their low recycling rate, it’s a bit of a stretch to imply that plastics meet the generally accepted definition of circularity: industrial processes and economic activities that are 1) restorative or regenerative by design, 2) enable resources used to maintain their highest value for as long as possible, and 3) aim to eliminate waste through the superior design of materials, products and systems.

Paper-based packaging, on the other hand, has a demonstrably circular life cycle.

Paper-based packaging is manufactured using an infinitely renewable natural resource – trees that are purpose-grown, harvested and re-grown in sustainably managed forests. And it is manufactured in a process that uses mostly (64% on average in the U.S.) renewable bioenergy. This fact, combined with investments in energy efficiency and process improvements helped the U.S. paper industry reduce GHG emissions per ton of production by more than 24% since 2005. (American Forest and Paper Association, AF&PA). According to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the pulp and paper industry is not a major contributor to climate change, contributing less than 0.6% of total U.S. CO2e emissions.

While all of these unique environmental characteristics make paper arguably one of the most sustainable products on earth, it’s the paper industry’s investment in recycling infrastructure that makes the paper life cycle truly circular. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. industry has voluntarily bankrolled billions of dollars in recycling infrastructure, including $7 billion in completed or announced investments between 2019 and 2025. Today, 94% of Americans have access to a community paper recycling program, and 79% have access to residential/curbside recycling programs, this according to a comprehensive national study commissioned by AF&PA in 2021.

Because paper recycling is accessible and easy, U.S. businesses and consumers have embraced it in a big way. With a recycling rate of 68% (~46 million tons annually), paper and paper-based packaging are the most recycled material in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream (EPA).  And that rate jumps to nearly 94% for cardboard packaging (AF&PA).

Kathi Rowzie, President

Two Sides North America

Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Believe Paper-based Packaging is Better for the Environment than Other Packaging Materials

DAYTON, Ohio, June 26, 2023 –  If you recently made a purchase online, you’re not alone. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that retail e-commerce sales topped $272 billion in the first quarter of 2023, up 7.8% from the same period last year. Along with this continuing growth in online purchases comes an increasing  awareness of the materials used to package and ship products, and the impact these materials have on the environment. A new survey commissioned by Two Sides North America and conducted by international research firm Toluna found that U.S. consumers believe paper-based packaging is better for the environment than other packaging materials.

Paper: The preferred and sustainable packaging choice

Survey respondents were asked to rank their preferred packaging material (paper/cardboard, plastic, glass and metal) based on 15 environmental, aesthetic and practical attributes. Overall, paper/cardboard packaging was preferred for 10 of the 15 attributes, including all environmental attributes, with half of respondents saying paper/cardboard is better for the environment than other types of packaging. Consumers also preferred paper/cardboard packaging for being home compostable (59%) and easier to recycle (43%).

Glass packaging was preferred by consumers for four practical and aesthetic attributes, including being reusable (39%), having a preferred look and feel (39%), providing a better image for the brand (38%) and better protection (35%). 45% preferred metal packaging for being strong and robust. Plastic packaging was not preferred for any of the 15 attributes, and only one in 10 respondents believes plastic packaging is better for the environment.

Consumers demand that brands and retailers do more

Brands and retailers play a crucial role in driving innovation and the use of recyclable packaging. In response to increasing consumer pressure to operate more sustainably, brands and retailers in many sectors, from wine, spirits and soft drinks to candy, cosmetics and apparel are shifting from plastic to paper packaging.

The survey found that 55% of consumers would buy more from brands and retailers who remove plastic from their packaging, up from 49% in 2021. 50% said they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging, up from 41% over the past two years. 47% said they would consider avoiding a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39% in 2021.

“As the call for circular product life cycles grows louder, paper has always had a head start,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “The paper industry’s longstanding and continuing investment in recycling infrastructure, support of community recycling programs and consumer education on what and how to recycle have transformed the circularity of paper-based packaging from vision to reality. At a time when there is growing alarm about the low recycled rates of other packaging materials, paper recycling is a striking exception.”

68% of paper and paper-based packaging in the United States gets recovered and recycled into new products, and that jumps to more than 91% for corrugated cardboard. In comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection reports that plastics, glass and metals are recycled at just 9%, 25% and 34%, respectively.

The 2023 Two Sides Trend Tracker Survey queried 1,000 respondents over age 18 across the United States. It is the second of Two Sides’ biennial trend tracker studies designed to explore and better understand consumer perceptions, behaviors and preferences related to the sustainability of paper products.


Download the press release here.

About Two Sides North America

Two Sides North America ( is part of the non-profit Two Sides global network which includes more than 600 member companies across North America, South America, Latin America, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Our mission is to dispel common environmental misconceptions and to inspire and inform businesses and consumers with engaging, factual information about the inherent environmental sustainability and enduring value of print, paper and paper-based packaging.

Media Contact:

Kathi Rowzie, President

Two Sides North America

P:  937-999-7729



Can Paper Help Save the Planet?

The recent United Nations global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, brought the world’s leaders together again to try to reach agreement on further commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. High on the agenda was preserving the health of the world’s forests – a critical natural resource for absorbing these emissions.

With this heightened international attention on preventing deforestation, primarily in the developing world, now is a good time to remind ourselves that the North American forests that supply the wood fiber for our paper and packaging products are among the most sustainably managed in the world.

They are so well-managed, in fact, that our forests continue to be a net absorber of carbon. In the United States, sustainable forest management practices, the regeneration of forest area and modern harvesting practices resulted in a net sequestration of carbon every year from 1990 to 2019, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reports that U.S. forests annually capture and store 14% of economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions. Natural Resources Canada reports that forestlands capture and store around 19% of all carbon dioxide equivalents emitted in the country.

The production of wood and paper products is a powerful economic engine and driving force in keeping North American lands forested. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to manage their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. More than half (58%) of the forestland in the U.S. is privately owned and managed, mostly by millions of small landowners, and they are under no obligation to keep their lands forested. Without the economic incentive provided by the forest products industry, untold millions of acres of forestland would likely have been lost permanently to commercial land development – converted to building projects, strip malls or parking lots.

For proof, look no further than countries where there is little economic incentive to keep lands forested. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment, those areas of the world that consume the least amount of wood have the greatest problem with the kind of deforestation that the Glasgow conferees were trying to address.

Compare that with North America’s forest products industry. While they were producing the wood and paper products that enrich the lives of consumers, net forest area in the U.S. grew by some 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, according to the UN FAO, and Canada’s forest area of 857 million acres has been stable over the same period. By law, every acre of Canadian forest that is commercially harvested must be regenerated.

In the U.S., the net average annual increase in growing stock on timberland is about 25 billion cubic feet, according to the USFS, and forests in the U.S. annually grow nearly twice as much wood as is harvested. USFS also reports that tree harvesting in the U.S. occurs on less than 2% of forestland per year in contrast to the nearly 3% disturbed annually by natural events like insects, disease, and fire, and most of this harvested wood is used for non-paper purposes. Harvesting in Canada occurs on only 0.2% of forestlands, while 4.7% is disturbed by insects and 0.5% is disturbed by fire, this according to Natural Resources Canada.

The Glasgow summit also kicked off a discussion of the inherent advantages of bio-based materials – like  paper and paper-based packaging– in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their potential role in a more broad-based, circular bio-economy. The FAO released a report demonstrating how renewable wood-based products can help combat climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

According to Dr. E. Ashley Steel, Forest Statistics Expert at the UN FAO:

“There is strong evidence at the product level that wood products are associated with lower GHG emissions over their entire life cycle compared to products made from GHG-intensive and non-renewable materials. Wood and wood-based products are generally associated with lower fossil and process-based emissions when compared to non-wood products.”

The document left open for later study the extent to which paper and paper-based packaging may serve as substitutes for non-wood products in the search for those that contribute to the net reduction of greenhouse gases, but there’s little doubt that any product sourced from materials that are grown and regrown are better for combating climate change than the non-paper alternatives.

Member Spotlight

When one thinks of leaders in sustainability, it’s unlikely thoughts would turn to a 200-year-old company. But a company’s age doesn’t always mean “old-school.” Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc., the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States, is a gold standard example of a company that has built sustainability into the DNA of its business. With a passion for the environment and ingenuity, Monadnock has developed a portfolio of award-winning and sustainably advantaged fine printing, packaging and technical papers.

All Monadnock printing and packaging papers are FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) certified (FSC C018866) and manufactured using 100% renewable, carbon neutral Green-e certified wind-powered electricity, all under a third-party certified ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

“We’re proud that our commitment to sustainability has yielded appreciable, measurable and verified environmental impact reductions,” says Monadnock Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard G. Verney. “Monadnock’s ISO 14001 certification demonstrates our holistic approach to educate the marketplace and supply the world’s leading brands with sustainable materials.”

“Over the years we have been recognized by leading environmental organizations and government agencies including the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sierra Club, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the New Hampshire Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” he adds. “But awards and recognition aren’t why we do it. We do it because we live here. We do it because we raise our families here. And we do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Monadnock Vice President of Sales and Marketing Lisa Taylor says that the company’s commitment to educating the marketplace about sustainability is a perfect fit with Two Sides’ mission to tell the great sustainability story of print, paper and paper-based packaging. “Given all of the great things that Two Sides does, chief among them is the organization’s relentless focus on truth-telling,” Taylor says. “Communicating verifiable information across the supply and value chain is helping the entire industry to advance. We share with the talented pros at Two Sides the drive, commitment and continued innovation required to keep the industry viable and sustainable now and in the future.”

Adding to its already robust profile of sustainable wood-fiber based papers and packaging materials, Monadnock recently introduced new lines that incorporate alternative fibers, including industrial hemp, cotton linters and recycled jute bags. The material science, engineering expertise and consistency in production the company has developed with wood fiber over the last two centuries is now being harnessed to produce these new alternative-fiber offerings.

On average, industrial hemp contains up to 85% cellulose compared to 30% cellulose content of trees. Hemp fiber is more efficient to pulp and results in energy and water savings because less non-cellulose material is being removed in the process. Hemp Envi Performance Board, available in both coated and uncoated options, has a content mix of 30% industrial hemp and 70% recycled fiber.

Cotton linters, known colloquially as cotton fuzz, are the final, cellulose-rich byproduct of the cottonseed refining process used to make livestock feed, textile fibers and commercial cooking oils. Monadnock uses 100% cotton linters sourced from North America to craft Cotton Envi Performance Board. The cotton industry overall has taken many positive steps in recent years to improve the environmental profile of how it is planted, cultivated and harvested, with reductions in water use and chemicals chief among them.

Jute matures in three months and is an irrigation-free and largely pesticide- and herbicide-free crop. Kona Envi Performance Board is made from a combination of shredded jute coffee bean bags and FSC-certified recycled fiber. Using this material keeps an estimated 25 million coffee bean bags annually from entering the waste stream when they approach the end of their useful lifespan.

For more information about Monadnock Paper Mills, visit

For more information on the benefits of Two Sides membership, click here.


Member Spotlight

With paper production capacity of 1.1 million tons and pulp production capacity of 600,000 tons, Pixelle Specialty Solutions is the largest and fastest growing specialty papers manufacturer in North America. The company operates four paper mills in Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as a coating and converting plant in Ohio.

Pixelle’s broad portfolio of products includes inkjet papers used for wide-ranging applications, from home office and desktop printing to book publishing, billboards and wide-format printing; label stock used for cut-and-stack labels, beverage labels and thermal transfer/direct thermal labels; label and release liners; food packaging papers; bag papers; and paper for cups, straws and lids.

Pixelle is a long-time member of Two Sides and an enthusiastic supporter of Two Sides’ mission to tell the great sustainability story of print, paper and paper-based packaging.

“The paper and packaging sustainability story needs to reach new audiences, and Two Sides has a track record of doing just that,” says Pixelle Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dave Dickerhoof. “Whether it’s fighting misleading claims about our industry’s environmental impact or working with organizations and consumers to better understand the sustainability of print, paper and fiber-based packaging, we appreciate the value Two Sides creates for its membership and for the packaging industry as a whole.”

The Pixelle team creates value for brand owners, converters and end users by providing tailored solutions that go beyond functional product requirements to help these customers meet their sustainability goals and objectives. Pixelle’s release liner recycling program is a prime example. Designed to reduce the amount of silicone paper that goes to landfills or gets incinerated, the program consolidates used release liner from customers and sends it to a recycler that de-siliconizes it. The clean fiber is then returned to Pixelle for use in new liner products.

“We understand that Pixelle has a role to play in advancing a circular, more sustainable economy,” says Dickerhoof. “Using recycled content in our products can have an important environmental impact on the overall life cycle of these products. Our goal is to develop and create new products that maximize that impact and align with the sustainability commitments of our converter and brand partners.”

In response to increasing consumer demand for more sustainable packaging and an end to single-use plastics, another focus area at Pixelle is the development of barrier coating technologies for packaging papers and other applications that deliver desired performance characteristics without the use of plastics and PFAS chemicals.

Pixelle works to understand barrier requirements on a case-by-case basis and tailors solutions that meet overall structural needs, but also focuses on end-of-life and eco-friendly design that eliminates the need for “regrettable substitutes.”

“There are many applications where plastic is not the only viable option,” says Pixelle Vice President of Specialty Papers Bob Van Helden. “For Pixelle, problematic plastics are a focus for resolution. We’re collaborating and partnering with brand owners and converters, looking at historical packaging applications and discovering fiber alternatives to problematic substrates and raw materials.”

For more information about Pixelle Specialty Solutions, visit

For more information on the benefits of Two Sides membership, click here.

Virgin or Recycled Fiber Packaging? The Answer is Both

For decades now, billions of dollars in recycling infrastructure investment by the paper industry combined with support from consumers, communities and businesses have made the recycling of paper-based packaging an overwhelming success across North America.

Even so, the great success story of recycled packaging has been muddled by competing claims between and among paper manufacturers and the environmental community about how much recycled content packaging products should contain. Unfortunately, consumers, brands and retailers have been badly served by the black-or-white nature of this debate. There’s no question that recycled content contributes to the sustainability of paper-based packaging and to a more sustainable, circular economy. But does every product have to contain 100% recycled content to be sufficiently sustainable, as some insist?

The answer is no. To begin with, recycled fiber has to originate somewhere, and that origin is the virgin fiber that made up the paper product that got recycled in the first place.

Some say that the use of 100% recycled content in paper-based packaging is critical because it “saves trees.” But the demand for wood fiber from sustainably managed forests actually encourages responsible forestry practices that promote long-term forest growth. So successfully in fact, that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in its 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment that U.S. forest area expanded around 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, and forested area in Canada remained quite stable at 857 million acres during the same period. The UN FAO also reported that the greatest forest loss occurred in those regions of the world that use the least wood.

Also, recycled fibers can’t be recycled indefinitely. In the case of paper-based packaging, fibers can be recycled from five to 10 times. But over time, the process of collecting, deinking and cleaning degrades and weakens the fibers to the point they are no longer usable, and that means they must be replaced with fresh virgin fiber.

Without the continuous introduction of virgin fiber into the system, the manufacture of recycled packaging would quickly come to a halt.

For paper products that require additional processing for higher brightness, like those used to package consumer electronics, cosmetics and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, there is also a tipping point at which the environmental advantages of increasingly higher percentages of recycled fiber meet diminishing returns. Like virgin paper production, recycling plants use resources like water, energy and chemicals, and like virgin mills, they generate air and water emissions. The more that recycled fiber has to be processed for use in new products, the greater the environmental burden will be relative to virgin paper manufacture.

What a fair life cycle comparison of the two processes – virgin and recycled – shows is that both processes have their environmental advantages and limitations. For example, although virgin pulp manufacture requires more overall energy than the equivalent process for recycled pulp, it relies primarily on the use of greenhouse gas neutral biofuels while recycled pulp production relies more on greenhouse gas generating fossil fuels. The recycling process generates more waste – from inks, fillers, degraded fiber and other contaminants – than the virgin process, which uses the entire tree and recycles over 95% of primary pulping chemicals.

The point is that, rather than competing with each other, both types of fiber complement each other in a perpetual cycle of sustainability unique to the paper industry, and that’s what we need to tell businesses that use paper-based products to package and ship their goods and consumers who purchase and receive those goods.

We should also spread the word that regardless of whether paper-based packaging is made with virgin or recycled content, it is recycled more than any other type of packaging in North America. In the U.S. for example, the most recent figures available from the Environmental Protection Agency show paper-based packaging is recycled at a rate of 80.9%, with corrugated cardboard boxes recycled at 96.5%. This compares with plastic packaging at 13.6%, glass at 31.2% and aluminum at 34.9%.

It’s important to note that paper products cannot be “upcycled” in the recycling process. This means, for example, that corrugated cardboard packaging cannot be recycled into higher quality paper grades. However, higher quality grades can be “downcycled” to produce recycled packaging grades.

100% recycled content is desirable and environmentally beneficial for many packaging applications, but not for all. Rather than establishing an arbitrary goal of 100% recycled content in all paper-based packaging, or other types of paper for that matter, the ultimate objective should be to recycle as much paper of all types as possible and make the best use of that recycled fiber in products that make the most environmental sense.


Paper-Based Packaging Is Preferred By Consumers

Paper-Based Packaging Is Preferred By Consumers

People look to product packaging to help them make decisions about what to buy. Perceptions of practicality, sustainability and quality all play a part.

When asked to rank their preferred packaging materials (paper and cardboard, glass, metal or plastic) based on 15 environmental, practical and visual/tactile attributes, U.S. consumers ranked paper and cardboard packaging highest on 11 of 15 attributes, with 66% saying paper and cardboard packaging are better for the environment.[1]

The increasing consumer consciousness regarding sustainable packaging, as well as the strict regulations imposed by various environmental protection agencies (regarding the use of environment-friendly packaging products) are the factors driving the market for paper packaging.
Mordor Intelligence, 2020

68% of U.S. grocery shoppers ages 18 to 65 years consider it important to choose foods and beverages that are packaged responsibly, and 71% agree that foods and beverages with healthier ingredients should use packaging materials that are healthier too. Paper and glass packaging are considered to have the least negative environmental impact and perceived to be the healthiest options.[2]

Consumers across the United States are willing to change their behavior to shop more sustainably. Nearly four in 10 (38%) are willing to spend more on a product if it is packaged using sustainable materials, and more than a third (36%) said they would consider avoiding a retailer who is not taking steps to reduce their use of non-recyclable plastic packaging.[1]

Most Americans agree that the design of a product’s packaging (72%) and the materials used to package a product (67%) often influence their purchase decisions when selecting which products to buy. For two thirds, paper and cardboard packaging makes a product more attractive than other packaging materials (67%), and a similar proportion agrees that paper and cardboard packaging make products seem premium or high quality (63%).[3]

When asked which types of shopping bags – cotton/canvas, paper, lightweight plastic, lightweight compostable plastic and heavyweight plastic – best fit a variety of attributes, U.S. consumers ranked paper shopping bags highest when it comes to the environment, favoring paper bags for being recyclable, compostable and made from renewable and recycled materials.[1]


  1. Two Sides and Toluna, 2020
  2. EcoFocus, 2018
  3. Ipsos, 2018

Paper-Based Packaging Is Practical, Beneficial And Appealing

Paper-Based Packaging Is Practical, Beneficial And Appealing

Paper and cardboard are versatile and effective packaging materials, whether for storage or in transit, displayed in-store or used in the home.

Corrugated cardboard boxes are the backbone of the American supply chain. Some 38 billion packages are delivered safely in corrugated cardboard boxes each year. Corrugated packaging is frequently lightweight and can reduce shipping costs.[1]

Using materials that are not recyclable could cause a brand to be regarded as ‘wasteful,’ and customers may share their unboxing experience for the wrong reasons. In the reverse, using sustainable products will go a long way to helping a brand to cultivate an image of strong ethics and social responsibility.
BigCommerce, 2019

In recent years, unboxing has gone from being a seasonal pleasure, to an online fad, to a powerful e-commerce marketing tool.
BigCommerce, 2019

Most Americans (83%) agree that paper and cardboard packaging can be innovative. In fact, roughly seven in 10 feel that this type of packaging allows for more creative packaging designs than other packaging materials (75%) and that products packaged in paper or cardboard seem more artisanal or hand-crafted (69%).[2]

Corrugated cardboard can be cut and folded into an infinite variety of shapes and sizes and direct printed with high-resolution color graphics. Corrugated is custom designed to fit specific product protection, shelf space and shipping density requirements (including inner packaging that prevents shifting).[3]

With the rise of plastic pollution, countless brands are opting for a more sustainable branding solution when it comes to their products’ packaging. This is where paper comes in. The eco-friendly material is recyclable and lightweight, making it perfect for food, coffee or dessert products. In addition to its environmentally friendly qualities, paper packaging is also easy to customize when it comes to color, text or graphics.[4]


  1. Fibre Box Association (FBA), 2020
  2. Ipsos, 2018
  3. FBA, 2019
  4. Trend Hunter, 2014