FSEA Releases Study on the Recycling of Fiber-Based Materials with Transfer Metallic Decoration

The Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA) has announced the release of a new report detailing the results from a newly completed study on the recycling of fiber-based materials with transfer metallic decoration. The new study now available through FSEA has taken a further step to test transfer metallic decorated fiber-based materials and how the materials are sorted by Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) throughout the U.S. and North America. Through extensive testing at the Van Dyk Technology Center, the study demonstrates that fiber-based transfer metallic decorated materials are recyclable and are currently being sorted by Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to be included in the recycling stream.

Read more and request a copy of the new study at FSEA.com

 

A Critical Balance: Virgin and Recycled Fibers Partners in Printing Paper Production

The balance of virgin and recycled fibers in paper and paper-based packaging production is a critical and ongoing consideration by consumers. While the pursuit of environmental friendliness–or the appearance of it–drives the push towards more recycled fibers, virgin fibers are essential in crafting high-quality, durable, and sustainable paper products.

Capitalizing on Complementary Strengths: Both virgin and recycled fibers bring unique strengths to the table. Recycled fibers contribute to the circular economy, reducing the need for fresh raw materials. However, each time paper is recycled, the fibers get shorter and weaker, eventually degrading and unable to bond into new paper. On the other hand, virgin fibers offer essential qualities like strength, durability and brightness. The longevity and performance of the final paper or package are ensured by continually introducing new fiber into the system.

Reducing Environmental Impact: Determining a proper mix of virgin and recycled fibers is a nuanced process. While some argue for exclusively recycled content to “save trees,” the demand for wood fiber is also a driving force in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, as sustainably managed forests produce two times the tree volumes vs what is harvested. Strong market demand for sustainably sourced paper products provides a powerful financial incentive for landowners to continue to manage their land responsibly and keep it forested instead of converting or selling it for non-forest uses.

Well-managed forests are, by their nature, sustainable, and both virgin and recycled paper offer alternatives to electronic forms of communication that have their own environmental impact, such as e-waste and energy use. A balanced approach acknowledges the need for both sustainable forest management alongside recycling efforts.

Virgin vs Recyled Fibers in Print Paper

Meeting Business Needs: Choosing whether to use recycled or virgin paper typically comes down to the type of use. Most recycled paper contains a proportion of virgin fiber to ensure the quality of the end product. Breaking and separating fibers during recycling impacts the paper’s durability and surface area, and recycled paper products can only be “downcycled,” which means a corrugated box cannot be made into bright white paper, but higher quality paper can be made into recycled packaging grades. Many companies rely on using strong, bright, clean papers from virgin fibers to convey important messaging, provide strength, or be more hygienic. The wrong mix of recycled and virgin fibers will affect the ability to run smoothly through a press or printer and take up ink and other coatings. Ink saturation, registration and brightness may all be affected, creating a different type of end product depending upon the intended use.

Virgin vs Recyled Fibers in Print Paper

Reducing Environmental Footprint through Innovation: Paper is the most reliably recycled material, recovering nearly 68% of all the paper used in the U.S. in 2022 year and almost 94% of all cardboard.

The print and paper industry has contributed nearly $7 billion in recycling infrastructure, with approximately 80% of U.S. paper and packaging mills using some recovered paper fibers in their products. Technological advancements in the paper industry have played a crucial role in maximizing the potential of both virgin and recycled fibers. Innovations in processing techniques ensure the efficient utilization of recycled fibers and other materials without compromising the quality of the final product. These advancements contribute to a more sustainable and circular approach to paper production.

Increasing Consumer Awareness: Educating consumers about the benefits of a balanced mix of virgin and recycled fibers and the role the paper industry plays in environmental stewardship is essential. Two Sides North America researches and publishes an important collection of myths and facts to help consumers and businesses stay informed. Understanding that responsible paper production involves a thoughtful combination of these fibers can empower consumers to make environmentally conscious choices that truly support sustainable practices within the industry.

The union of virgin and recycled fibers in paper and paper-based packaging production is not just a compromise; it’s a strategic alliance embodying the principles of sustainability, quality, and versatility. By striking the right balance, the paper industry can contribute significantly to a circular economy while meeting the diverse needs of consumers and businesses alike.

Two Sides North America Celebrates Record-Breaking Year

As we look toward the New Year, Two Sides North America has a lot to celebrate! With the help of our members and supporters who submitted greenwashing claims from their service providers, we’ve broken our all-time annual record with 30 additional wins in our Anti-greenwashing Campaign in 2023!

These wins collectively represent more than 200 million North American consumers who are no longer seeing unsubstantiated environmental claims about paper from their financial institutions, utilities, insurance companies, government agencies and other organizations.

But there’s more work to do!  As companies face inflationary pressures, they’re looking for ways to cut costs. In many cases, this means urging their customers to go paperless and using misleading environmental claims about paper to get them to make the switch. And we know this tactic works!

Two Sides North America research showed that 65% of U.S. consumers who’ve seen greenwashing claims are influenced to switch from paper to electronic communications.

You can help the Two Sides North America Anti-greenwashing Campaign achieve even greater success in 2024!

If you see greenwashing claims like “go green, go paperless” or “going paperless saves trees” from companies you do business with, or if you spot media stories promoting alternative types of packaging as environmentally superior to paper, send a pdf or jpg snip of the claims to the Two Sides North America Anti-Greenwashing Campaign at info@twosidesna.org.

If your company is not a member of Two Sides, you can support our efforts by joining today! Membership starts at just $250.  Click here for more information or give us a call at 971-288-6734.

Best Wishes for a Happy & Prosperous New Year from your Two Sides North America Team!

Unmasking Greenwashing: The Consequences and the Cure

In our increasingly environmentally conscious world, it’s common for companies to tout their green initiatives and environmentally friendly practices, and that’s just good business.  But all too often, companies claim benefits –  like the environmental superiority of “recyclable plastic” packaging or “going green” by switching from paper to electronic communications — as a way to cloak poor environmental performance or mask cost-cutting efforts. With no sound scientific evidence to back them up, these types of claims are textbook greenwashing.  

Some of the consequences of greenwashing are obvious.  Clearly, unsubstantiated environmental claims mislead consumers, often causing them to take actions they would not otherwise consider. As reported previously by Two Sides North America (TSNA), psychological research has shown that when people see and hear unsubstantiated claims over and over again, they start to believe them as true, and ultimately incorporate them into their decision making. A 2022 TSNA study confirmed this finding. The study showed that among Americans who had repeatedly seen “go green, go paperless” and similar claims from their banks, utility companies and other services providers, 65% were influenced to switch from paper to electronic bills and statements.

Greenwashing claims can also cause reputational harm, not only damaging the credibility of companies that make such claims, but also casting doubt over the valid claims of companies that are contributing to real environmental progress.  The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides” provide very specific guidance related to environmental claims, stating that “claims must be truthful, not misleading and supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.” Unfortunately, this guidance is often ignored.

Hidden Consequences

One of the least discussed but most damaging consequences of paper-related greenwashing is economic in nature. When respected companies, media and producers of competing materials make unsubstantiated environmental claims, they negatively influence consumers’ perceptions of paper products and put at risk the livelihoods of workers across the print, paper, paper-based packaging and mail sector.  A recent study by the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation reported that this sector accounts for 7.9 million workers who make up 5% of the U.S. workforce and contribute nearly $2 trillion to the U.S. economy.  From papermakers, printers and converting equipment operators to graphic designers, paper industry suppliers and mail management and distribution employees, greenwashing creates economic vulnerabilities for many.  

The Greenwashing Cure: Accountability

The way to eliminate paper-related greenwashing by corporations, media and producers of competing materials is to hold them accountable for their bogus claims.  Two Sides North America is the only industry organization doing just that.

Two Sides directly challenges greenwashing companies to remove unsubstantiated environmental claims in a non-confrontational way, educating CEOs and other senior management with facts from credible, third-party sources that clearly demonstrate the unique sustainability characteristics of paper products and the solid and continually improving environmental record of the North American paper industry. So far this year, TSNA has persuaded 24 more companies and two state/provincial government agencies to remove unsubstantiated environmental claims about paper, which translates to roughly 239 million consumers who are no longer seeing anti-paper greenwashing claims from these service providers.  

Two Sides also defends the sustainability of paper and paper-based packaging in the media, most recently in our letters to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and Office Products International (OPI) News. 

“Paper is one of the few products on earth that already has an environmentally sustainable, circular life cycle,” says TSNA President Kathi Rowzie. “North American paper is made from an infinitely renewable natural resource – trees that are purpose-grown, harvested and regrown in sustainably managed forests. It’s manufactured using mostly renewable, carbon neutral bioenergy in a process that uses a lot of water, but actually consumes very little of it. And paper products are recycled more than any other material in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. But many consumers believe paper is bad for the environment because corporations, the media and other organizations they trust are telling them so. The Two Sides Anti-greenwashing Campaign is working hard to change that.”

You Can Help!

If you see greenwashing claims like “go green, go paperless” from companies you do business with, or media stories promoting alternative types of packaging as environmentally superior to paper, send a pdf or jpg snip of the claims or forward the offending email to the Two Sides North America Anti-Greenwashing Campaign at info@twosidesna.org.

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

www.twosidesna.org

The Circularity of Paper: Inside the Paper Mill

We know the circular life cycle of North American paper products begins as wood from sustainably managed forests where trees are purpose-grown, harvested and regrown in perpetuity.  But once that wood reaches a pulp and paper mill, how does the manufacturing process contribute to circularity and minimize environmental impacts of paper products?

Listen here!

Download a transcript of the podcast here.

Biomass Basics: Clearing the Air About Paper’s GHG Emissions

Have you heard that the earth is flat, literally flat? Yes, there are serious organizations making impressive-sounding arguments and throwing scientific jargon in every direction to disprove what real science and observation have taught us about our planet, but in the end the earth is still round. So it is with the claim that paper manufacturing is “a major contributor to climate change.”

Too many ENGOs and other self-interested parties have invested years trying to refute the findings of global scientific authorities like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the paper industry is largely greenhouse gas neutral.  But just like the Flat Earth argument, it takes only a little high school science, sound data and a bit of common sense to separate the truth from the blizzard of activist rhetoric posing as climate change “studies.”

Biomass in the Forest

In high school science class, we learned about photosynthesis, the process where trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and with the help of radiant energy from the sun convert that CO2 into tree fiber called biomass. As trees grow, they continue to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as biomass until they die, decay or are burned, at which time the CO2 simply returns to the atmosphere in a natural carbon cycle.  This “biogenic” carbon cycle remains in balance and no net carbon is added to the atmosphere as long as forest carbon stocks – the carbon stored in forest biomass – remain stable or increase.

The biogenic carbon cycle concept is central to globally recognized greenhouse gas inventory and accounting protocols, including the IPCC’s Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. As stated in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report, “In the long-term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, wood fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained [climate change] mitigation benefit.”

Are forest stocks in the United States growing? The answer is a resounding “yes,” thanks in great part to the sustainable forestry practices and forest certification advocated by the paper industry. The U.S. Forest Service reports that U.S forests grow approximately two times more tree volume than is harvested each year, with net average annual growing forest stock of about 25 billion cubic feet.

Keeping the Carbon Cycle in Balance

It’s not unusual for anti-paper activist fundraising campaigns to include photos of a recently harvested plot of forestland, claiming that such harvests have “devastating climate impacts” because it takes decades for replanted or naturally regenerated trees to grow back and replace the carbon that was removed during harvest. While this type of chicanery may be successful in raising money from unwitting individuals and corporations, it completely ignores the science and economics of sustainable forest management.

In the real world, a balanced biogenic carbon cycle is measured across large spatial landscapes and averaged over time, not as a one-time snapshot of a single plot of land. In sustainably managed forests, a balanced carbon cycle is maintained by harvesting trees on some plots which are then regenerated by replanting or natural means, while trees on other plots continue to grow and absorb carbon. In fact, keeping growing forest eco-systems healthy and productive while regenerating areas that have been harvested for paper and other wood-based products (or damaged by forest fires or insects) is the very definition of sustainable forestry. And it takes little more than common sense to understand that sustainable forest management is critical to the paper industry’s long-term supply of raw materials, and thus its long-term economic health.

Biomass for Energy

Very little of the sustainably grown wood used in papermaking goes to waste. In addition to the fiber that eventually ends up in paper products, leftovers from the tree harvesting and papermaking processes – things like sawdust, small limbs, bark, and wood residuals from the pulping process – are used to generate renewable energy at U.S. paper mills.

Some in the activist community contend that burning biomass for energy at paper mills is a major contributor to climate change because doing so releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.  While CO2 is released, it is an inherent part of the biogenic carbon cycle and adds no net carbon to the environment. This is significantly different from burning fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are removed from geologic reserves in the ground and burned for energy, this adds carbon to the atmosphere that has been stored for millions of years – essentially new carbon that contributes to climate change.

How much biomass does the U.S. paper industry use to power its operations? The American Forest and Paper Association reports that nearly two-thirds of the energy needs at U.S. pulp and paper mills (64% on average) are met using renewable biofuels, mostly biomass. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), displacing fossil fuels with this sustainable bioenergy prevents about 181 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere each year. That’s roughly equal to removing 35 million cars from the road annually.

Papermaking, Biomass and Climate Change

So how does paper manufacturing fit into the overall picture when it comes to GHG emissions and their impact on climate change? The pulp and paper sector was among the first to take voluntary action to reduce GHGs, so it’s no surprise that U.S. paper mills and manufacturing facilities have a solid record of GHG reduction. According to the U.S. EPA’s most recent data, emissions from the sector have steadily declined in recent years, down 21% between 2011 and 2021. This reduction is attributed to the increasing use of carbon-neutral biomass fuel, the switch from coal and oil to less carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as natural gas, and technology enhancements that improved overall energy efficiency.

Is paper manufacturing a major contributor to climate change? Contrary to activist claims and pop culture headlines, the answer is clearly, “no,” and the data supports this finding.  According to the EPA, the U.S. pulp and paper industry is responsible for less than 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

For more facts about the sustainability of paper products, click here.

New Two Sides North America Survey Shows Improvement in Consumer Attitudes about Paper Products and the Environment

DAYTON, Ohio – April 27, 2023 – 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 – but the gap has narrowed over the past two years. Overall, 44% of consumers believe paper products are bad for the environment, down from 48% in 2021. This according to a new survey commissioned by Two Sides North America and conducted by global research firm Toluna.

“It’s great to see improvement in consumer attitudes about paper and the environment, but we need to accelerate this trend if paper products are to remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “More and more consumers are factoring environmental impacts into their purchasing decisions, but all too often those decisions are based on longstanding myths, pop culture headlines and corporate greenwashing rather than facts,” she explains. “Everyone whose livelihood depends on paper has a role in changing this. As the world moves toward a more sustainable, circular economy, the paper and paper-based packaging industry has a great, fact-based environmental story to tell: The life cycle of paper is already circular.”

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

Paper use is often blamed for forest loss, and 55% of those surveyed believe U.S. forests are shrinking, an improvement over 2021, when 60% of consumers said they believe U.S. forest area is decreasing. The facts: U.S. forest area grew by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s most recent 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 millions of private landowners not only to manage and harvest their land responsibly, but also to keep it forested rather than converting it to non-forest use or selling it for development, the leading cause of deforestation in the United States according to the U.S. Forest Service.

What percentage of paper is recycled?

Paper recycling in the United States is a hands down environmental success story, but most consumers don’t know it. According to the survey, only 12% of consumers know the U.S. recycling rate exceeds 60%, up from 11% in 2021. Four in 10 consumers believe the paper recycling rate is less than 30%. The facts: More than two-thirds (68%) of all paper and paper-based packaging in the U.S. is recycled, and more than 91% of corrugated cardboard is recycled according to the American Forest and Paper Association. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that paper is the most recycled material in the country, compared to plastics at 9%, glass at 25% and metals at 34%.

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

As companies continue to resort to unsubstantiated “go green, go paperless” marketing claims to help them cut costs, 68% of consumers surveyed believe that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than print on paper, up from 67% in 2021. Clearly, consumers want to do the right things when it comes to the environment, but are often misled by corporate greenwashing that fails to acknowledge the environmental impacts of digital communication.

The facts: The EPA reports that the pulp and paper industry accounts for only 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which isn’t surprising since 64% of the energy needs at U.S. pulp and paper mills are met using renewable, carbon neutral biofuels, mostly biomass. In contrast, the rapidly expanding information communication technology (ICT) industry has a growing carbon footprint arising from GHGs released during all stages of the electronics life cycle. A recent meta-analysis (Freitag, Berners-Lee, et al, 2022) estimates the ICT industry is responsible for up to 3.9% of global GHG emissions and that those emissions will continue to increase without both regulatory and industrial intervention. Unlike the recycling success story of paper products, only 15% of the approximately 7 million metric tons of e-waste generated in the United States each year gets recycled, according to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor. The rest is landfilled, burned or dumped, causing harm to both the environment and human health.

“The life cycle of paper products is circular by nature,” Rowzie explains. “The raw material used to make them is perpetually regrown, the energy used to manufacture them is generated using mostly renewable, 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 is working to correct. We believe consumers have the right to make purchasing choices based on data and hard facts, free from pop mythology and greenwashing.”

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.

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Download the press release here.

About Two Sides North America

Two Sides North America (www.twosidesna.org) 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

E:  info@twosidesna.org

Facts are Stubborn Things: The Truth About Paper and Deforestation

By Kathi Rowzie, President, Two Sides North America

You’ve no doubt seen the impassioned ENGO fundraising claims warning that “billions of trees are cut down each year to make paper products,” and as a result, “deforestation is accelerating at a rapid pace.” Their suggested solution to this “deforestation crisis and its climate impacts” is to eliminate the use of wood fiber to manufacture paper products – 50% by 2030 – and replace it with recycled content or so called “next generation” alternative fibers.

But as President John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  And the fact is that sustainably produced North American paper products are not a cause of deforestation, no matter what some ENGOs say or how many times they say it.

Deforestation is defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other credible environmental organizations as the permanent conversion of forestland to non-forest uses. Every five years, the UN FAO publishes its Global Forest Resources Assessment, a comprehensive report on the state of the world’s forests.  Its most recent report states, “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 and the natural expansion of forests.” The UN FAO also reports that those areas of the world that consume the greatest amount of wood have the least amount of deforestation – areas like the United States and Canada.

Yes, deforestation remains a problem, particularly in the developing world due primarily to the conversion of forestland to agricultural crops for animal feed. But net forestland in the U.S. actually increased 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, even in the face of deforestation driven by rapidly expanding urban development and climate change, and net forestland in Canada remained stable during the same period (UN FAO).

Thanks in great part to the sustainable forestry practices advocated by the paper and forest products industry, the annual increase in U.S. tree volume is roughly twice the amount that is harvested (US Forest Service, USFS). By law, every hectare of forestland that is commercially harvested on Canada’s public lands (94% of all Canadian forestland) must be reforested (Natural Resources Canada, NRCan). Only 0.2% of Canadian forestland (NRCan) and less than 2% of U.S. forestland (USFS) is harvested annually, and the vast majority of that harvest is used for non-paper purposes.

Recycling as much paper as possible is indeed a desirable environmental goal, and recycling is critical to a more sustainable, circular economy.  In the U.S., 68% of paper and paper-based packaging gets recycled, and the recovery rate for corrugated cardboard stands at an amazing 91%. But paper can be recycled only five to seven times before its wood fibers become too weak to bond into new products, making the use of only recycled content a practical impossibility.  If fresh wood fiber isn’t continuously added to the manufacturing stream, the supply of recycled fiber would quickly run out and paper production would cease.

Expanding the use non-wood fibers to meet the growing global demand for paper products, especially packaging, can be an environmentally sound option, and for some uses they make sense. But suggesting that wood fiber simply be replaced with non-wood alternatives as a one-size-fits-all solution to deforestation and climate change ignores both the science and economics of papermaking.

In North America, it is the consistent demand for responsibly sourced paper products that provides the economic incentive to keep land forested and sustainably managed, land that might otherwise be converted to non-forest uses. However, in countries where wood resources are scarce, such as China and India, non-wood fibers including purpose grown fibers and agricultural residues, have been effectively used in papermaking. Wood, agricultural crops and crop residues are all important sources of papermaking fiber. Which sources make the most environmental and economic sense are inherently driven by:

  • Relative abundance of the raw materials,
  • Proximity to manufacturing infrastructure and the delivered cost of raw materials,
  • Compatibility with existing manufacturing infrastructure,
  • Manufacturing efficiencies,
  • Full life cycle environmental impacts, including recyclability,
  • Contribution to desired product characteristics, and
  • Demand for and success of products in the marketplace.

Those who genuinely want to solve the problem of deforestation and its climate change impacts need to stop following the “dictates of their passion” and focus on real world, fact-based solutions that will make a meaningful difference for our planet.

Paper or Plastic? In a Circular Economy, the Answer is Clear

By Kathi Rowzie, President, Two Sides North America

In today’s industrial marketplace, the concept of a circular economy is finally inching beyond theoretical ideals to real-world applications that will make our planet healthier and more sustainable. But becoming truly circular doesn’t come easy or cheap. It’s a challenge that requires intent, investment and innovation. The paper industry figured this out decades ago, and it has been at the leading edge of circularity ever since.

In fact, paper manufacturing exemplifies the very 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. Most alternatives don’t even come close. Take plastics, for example.

Plastic packaging is made from a variety of plastic resins. These include polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soft drink and water bottles, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk and water jugs, film products (including bags and sacks) made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and other containers and packaging (including clamshells, trays, caps, lids, egg cartons, loose fill, produce baskets, coatings and closures) made up of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP) and other resins (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). All of these resins 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).

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 and generates large amounts of carbon pollution (U.S. Department of Energy).

Plastics are a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. solid waste stream and, critical to any discussion of circularity, very little of it gets recycled (U.S. EPA). Drawing on the most recent EPA data available and last year’s plastic-waste exports, a new report published by environmental organizations Beyond Plastics and The Last Beach Cleanup estimates that Americans recycled only 5% to 6% of their plastics, down from the 8.7% reported by the EPA in 2018. But the real figure could be even lower, the report said, given factors such as the plastic waste collected for recycling that is instead sent to cement kilns and burned. The report states that, “Despite the stark failure of plastics recycling, the plastics, packaging and products industries have waged a decades-long misinformation campaign to perpetuate the myth that plastic is recyclable.”

“Plastics recycling does not work, it never will work, and no amount of false advertising will change that,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former EPA regional administrator, said in a press release.

“There is no circular economy for plastics,” added Jan Dell, founder of The Last Beach Cleanup. “Plastics and products companies co-opted the success of other materials recycling and America’s desire to recycle to create the myth that plastic is recyclable.”

The life cycle of paper tells a different story.

Paper products are manufactured using an infinitely renewable natural resource – trees that are purpose-grown, harvested and re-grown in sustainably managed forests. Thanks in great part to the sustainable forestry practices and third-party forest certification advanced by the paper industry, net U.S. forest area increased around 18 million acres over the past 30 years (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization).

The paper manufacturing process uses mostly renewable, carbon-neutral energy generated from biomass which, when burned, recycles biogenic carbon (carbon absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in trees) back into the environment. This fact, combined with investments in energy efficiency and process improvements helped the U.S. paper industry reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per ton of product produced by 24.1% between 2005 and 2020 (American Forest and Paper Association). According to the U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the pulp and paper industry is not a major contributor to climate change. In 2020, the industry was responsible for 0.6% of total CO2e emissions, compared to 0.5% in 2019. The industry’s actual emissions were slightly lower in 2020, but increased as a percentage of total emissions, which decreased 11% due to the reduction in transportation-related fossil fuel emissions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Water used in the manufacturing process at a typical U.S. paper mill is recycled up to 10 times. Then it’s cleaned to meet strict state and federal water quality standards and most of it, around 90%, is returned to its source. About 1% remains in the manufactured paper products, and the rest evaporates back into the environment (National Council on Air and Stream Improvement, NCASI). And mills that produce kraft pulp have highly efficient recovery systems that capture and recycle about 97% of pulping chemicals (NCASI).

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 $5 billion in investments announced or planned between 2019 and 2024. 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% (AF&PA), paper is the most recycled material in the United States (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and that number jumps to a remarkable 91.4% for cardboard packaging (AF&PA).

Click here for even more facts about paper’s contributions to a more sustainable, circular economy.

 

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