It Pays to Engage the News Media

Popular Science Publishes More Balanced Article on the Sustainability of Paper Products

The magazine Popular Science has shown the potential that a major news outlet can have in enlightening its readers when it approaches issues like the sustainability of paper with a sense of balance and a commitment to science. In April, Two Sides responded to an article in the publication, “Modern Paper Use is Wildly Unsustainable,” that was anything but balanced. We suggested that Popular Science should hold up its articles “to the illuminating glow of real authoritative data and pick up the phone to ask industry scientists or a school of forestry if any of what the authors claim makes sense.”

The publication did not respond directly to Two Sides, but they were clearly paying attention. Sometime after we sent our letter to the editors, they said in an update to the original story that in response to reader feedback they were subsequently “interviewing experts about sourcing, processing and recycling in the US paper industry.” Their resulting article published yesterday, “Where Does Your Paper Come From,” is a far more balanced piece by an accomplished journalist who did her homework.

She interviewed experts, including Gary M. Scott, a professor of paper and bioprocess engineering at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Ronalds Gonzalez, an assistant professor of supply chain and conversion economics in the Department of Forest Biomaterials at North Carolina State University. She also cited facts from a variety of credible sources, including the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, the American Forest and Paper Association and the Forest Products Association of Canada. Papermaking technology has seen significant advances since some of the linked information in the article was published, particularly the information on bleaching and water use, and the writer draws some conclusions that we do not agree with, but the overall portrayal of the industry reflects the realities of forestry and papermaking.

Let’s be clear. We’re never going to be satisfied with the mainstream media’s view of the paper industry or their need to cite organizations who have proven unfair to us. For example, the story also includes the ENGO perspective with links to published reports by the National Resources Defense Council, Environmental Paper Network and others. However, if we continue to engage with journalists covering our industry, we stand a better chance of getting fair coverage from honest news outlets. When the media present the facts, it becomes clear that paper is inherently sustainable – in fact, one of the most sustainable products on earth.

Read the May 20 Popular Science article here.

 

 

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

 

Two Sides Responds to Misleading Claims about the Sustainability of Paper Products in Popular Science

An article titled “Modern paper use is wildly unsustainable” recently appeared in Popular Science.  Two Sides responded to the publication to set the record straight.

 

April 14, 2021

TO: Popular Science

RE: Article titled “Modern paper use is wildly unsustainable” published April 6, 2021

To the editors:

Myths about the sustainability of the North American paper industry and its products are common media fodder in today’s world of sensationalized, headline-driven journalism. This time it was the turn of Popular Science to weave together a collection of standard anti-paper tropes into your “Modern paper use is wildly unsustainable” article.

Shouldn’t a publication dedicated to reporting on science resist the easy narrative, hold up a submission to the illuminating glow of real authoritative data and pick up the phone to ask industry scientists or a school of forestry if any of what the authors claim makes sense?

After all, paper is not only the most recycled material in North America. It is a material whose industry grows and regrows its own feedstock (wood fiber), derives most of the power to drive its processes from carbon neutral biofuel, and recycles more than 95% of the chemicals it uses to turn trees into pulp. This is not “wildly unsustainable.” This is a description of some of the world’s most sustainable products.

You always know what’s coming when an article begins with the classic, bait-and-switch doomed forests appeal. The hook is baited by painting a mental picture for the reader of the destruction of faraway endangered forests like those in Borneo and the Amazon, and the switch is the implication that these forests are the source of trees for North America’s paper and paper-based packaging products.

Paper products manufactured in the United States and Canada come from sustainably managed forests in North America, and these forests are not “disappearing.” Net forest area in the United States increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, while Canada’s net forest area was stable between 1990 and 2020 at approximately 857 million acres.1

Each year, forests in North America grow significantly more wood than is harvested. In the United States, the net average annual increase in growing stock on timberland is about 25 billion cubic feet. Tree cutting and removal 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.2 Harvesting occurs on 0.2% of Canada’s forestlands, while 4.7% is disturbed by insects and 0.5% is disturbed by fire.3

Contrary to the authors’ claim 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.

The authors’ proposed solution to this non-problem of paper-caused forest loss is not the sure thing they claim it is: alternative fibers. Alternative fibers can be sustainably used in certain grades of paper and under certain circumstances, particularly in regions of the world like India and China where wood fiber is scarce. But their claim that “alternative materials have a fraction of the environmental impact” that tree fiber does is a gross exaggeration.  While a comprehensive life cycle assessment is required to determine the full environmental impacts of alternative fiber papers, some broad conclusions can be drawn.

To begin with, alternative fibers are often grown like agricultural crops, which means there will be no trees on the landscapes where they are planted, in perpetuity. Forestlands that are harvested for tree fiber are replanted or allowed to grow back naturally. Also like agricultural crops, alternative fiber crops typically require more water and pesticides and generate more wastewater runoff than forests. And since, unlike trees, there is little residual biomass in alternative fibers, the process of converting them to paper must rely more on fossil fuels.

Moreover, global statistics on forests do not suggest that the use of alternative fiber paper products would protect forests for the long-term. The regions of the world that consume the least amount of wood are those that have the highest rates of deforestation.1

The authors are correct that paper products as a whole are recycled at over 60% in the United States. In fact, the figure is closer to 66%, and 70% in Canada, but even these statistics are only half the story. Some paper products, like corrugated boxes are recycled at rates of over 90%, demonstrating the potential for overall recycling rates to go even higher.4,5

The North American paper industry has invested tens of millions of dollars in capital-intensive recycling technology, as well as the collection and transportation systems to support it. As of the most recent survey, over 80% of all paper mills in the United States use recovered fiber as at least part of their fiber source. The investments are paying off as newer equipment and processes are allowing the paper mills to repulp post-consumer paper that was once unusable, including more of the paper cups and soiled pizza boxes mentioned by the authors.

Neither should your readers be concerned about “chlorine-based bleaches used to make paper whiter.” As the authors correctly noted, there are “restrictions on the kinds of bleach that paper companies can use,” but the story doesn’t end there. Over the last three decades, massive voluntary industry investment and stricter environmental regulations have combined to drive major advances in bleaching technology. Since the authors specifically refer to  “modern” paper making, let’s be clear: today’s state-of-the art mill processes have dramatically reduced the chances that the substances referred to by the authors can be released into the environment.

Yes, by all means, we should retrain our brains. But let’s start by resisting the urge to cut and paste the same tired myths into sensational retread articles. Let’s start with a fresh look at the truly “modern” production and use of paper and build the training on a foundation of real-world data and science.

Sincerely,

Kathi Rowzie

President

Two Sides North America

 

1UN Food and Agriculture Organizations, 2020

2 USDA Forest Services, 2019

3 Natural Resources Canada, 2020

4 American Forest and Paper Association, 2020

5 Forest Products Association of Canada, 2020

 

Member Spotlight

The Paper Science & Engineering Foundation at Miami University has been partnering with the Paper program at the university since 1960. The program started in 1957, and in its various forms over the years has graduated over 1500 students skilled to enter the paper industry. The Foundation is among more than a dozen educational institutions and organizations that are members of Two Sides.

The mission of the Foundation is to attract quality engineering students into the paper discipline as the source of future leaders for the paper industry. Executive Director Dr. Gary Rudemiller and Assistant Director Julie Bischoff work closely with the Executive Committee to strategize and execute the mission of the Foundation.

In fact, the tagline for the Foundation is “Transforming Students into Leaders for Industry.”

“Our students today are very conscious of sustainability in their personal lives, and want to know that their industry of choice also is committed to sustainability,” Rudemiller says. “At Miami, we educate the students on all sustainability aspects of the paper industry. Two-Sides is invaluable as a source of facts and data to counter the negative information about the industry that is frequently misstated or based on erroneous data. We share Two Sides information with students to broaden their knowledge of sustainability’s key role in the paper industry – in operational practices, product design and business models.”

The Foundation’s 38 member companies find real value in supporting the students through scholarships, work experiences (internships and co-ops), and permanent employment upon graduation.  These companies actively engage with the students to provide professional development opportunities to complement their academic exploits.  Nearly every student leaves Miami with at least one work experience with the industry.

The Foundation has an active body of stakeholders who volunteer to serve on one of the Foundation’s 10 committees which are active throughout the year. These stakeholders may work for a member company or be a graduate of the Paper program, or simply be an interested party that wants to support the mission of the Foundation.

Around 90 students enjoy personal attention from the professors in the Paper program, and the intimacy of such a cohesive program builds a unique bond within the community of Paper students.  Lifelong friendships are made as a consequence of the team-oriented projects that are frequently sponsored by industry.

For example, every other year Professor Steve Keller leads a group of about 20 students on a month-long trip to Europe to tour paper mills and equipment manufacturer sites, study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria, and enjoy the local culture.

Professor Doug Coffin spearheads an effort on behalf of the Foundation’s member companies to enhance the capabilities of students to engage with Industry 4.0 concepts. This three-week workshop for automation and advanced controls began in 2020 and goes by the acronym SASI (Systems Automation Springboard for Internships). The inaugural program exceeded the expectations of sponsoring companies, student participants and the instructors alike.

The Foundation also provides career mentoring for students during their entire time at the university, helping them to establish reasonable expectations, and connect them with work experience opportunities, whether it be internships, co-ops or their first permanent job.  This helps enable a smooth transition to their first industry job and establishes them on a good career trajectory.

Each year, nearly 60 students receive scholarship support from the Foundation totaling about $265,000, which comes from endowments that have been created by stakeholders over the years.

Miami University provides a unique educational experience for Paper engineering students.  They enjoy the benefits of an intimate engineering education in the midst of a liberal arts atmosphere, so that they graduate with a career-beneficial combination of capabilities: good people skills, the ability to work in teams and good leadership capabilities, all built upon a solid foundation of engineering education directed to the paper industry.

Click here for more information on the Miami University Paper Science and Engineering Foundation.

Click here for more information about becoming a member of Two Sides.

 

Member Spotlight

Headquartered in Coquitlam, BC, West World Paper (WWP) is a merchant that services the commercial print market in Western Canada. The company offers a wide range of fine paper products, office papers, envelopes, wide format media, janitorial and industrial products. In addition, WWP has an internal converting department that produces engineering/CAD rolls, films, kraft paper and newsprint rolls.  From its 30,000-square-foot headquarters and another 12,000-square-foot facility in Calgary, AB, the company manages more than 2,000 products and operates its own fleet of trucks, making distribution to customers in the region fast and efficient.

West World Paper has built a strong reputation not only for providing high quality products, but also for its commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The company assures that the pulp in all products it buys is sourced from sustainably managed forests. They have an extensive internal recycling program as well as a recycling program for customers. And they are big supporters of other local businesses and charities. WWP Director Shawn Leach says Two Sides membership is a perfect complement to the company’s sustainability efforts.

“Two Sides is a tremendous advocate for our industry, and West World Paper is proud to be a member,”  Leach says. “There are so many misconceptions about our industry and our products, and Two Sides effectively busts those myths by highlighting the many studies and facts from trusted third-party sources in an easy to understand format. And being a non-profit organization only adds to the credibility of their messaging and materials, which West World Paper uses regularly to help educate our customers and consumers,” he says.

West World Paper’s extensive internal recycling program recovers all paper, corrugated, wood and plastic used in its facilities, which is then sent to a local recycling company. The wide format paper rolls that WWP converts for the reprographic industry include paper cores and plastic caps. When the company delivers new rolls to a customer, they pick up the cores and caps from the empty rolls and reuse them in the converting process, preventing them from going to the landfill.

“In addition to our environmental commitment, we’re also big supporters of our local economy,” WWP Director Kevin Burden explains.  “We make every decision with our local community top of mind.  We use a local bank, local legal and accounting services, local graphic designers and of course, local printers.  We want people to understand that when they support West World Paper, they are supporting our local community.”

WWP also supports the local community with its charitable contributions.  One of the company’s key efforts is its participation in the Starfish Backpack Program, an effort supported by local Rotary Clubs across British Columbia which provides weekend meals to families in need.  Many weeks throughout the year, WWP employees fill backpacks with meals and snacks and deliver them to a local school for students to take home for the weekend.  The students return the empty backpacks to the school, and the volunteers pick them up to be refilled.

“We have a highly experienced, dedicated team that takes a great deal of pride in going above and beyond for our customers and our community,” Burden says.  Giving back is just one of the many ways they help transform West World Paper’s sustainability commitment into action.”

For more information about West World Paper, visit www.westworldpaper.com.

 

 

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