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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve been following Two Sides or other authoritative sources, you know that the paper products you use do not contribute in any major way to climate change. Why? Because most of the energy used to manufacture them is generated using renewable, carbon neutral biomass. But what does this really mean?
The life cycle of paper, like that of any other widely manufactured and used product, does involve the emission of carbon – the key element in most greenhouse gases. However, with paper, there’s a critical difference.
To put it simply, the carbon released from burning biomass does not contribute to climate change, while the carbon released from fossil fuel does.
Biomass, also called biogenic carbon, is carbon that is absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in trees and other vegetation through photosynthesis. When that biomass later decays in the forest or is burned – either in forest fires or as fuel in a paper mill – its carbon returns back to the atmosphere in an endless natural loop that continuously recycles the same carbon atoms (called the “terrestrial carbon cycle”). Consequently, no new carbon is added to the environment.
On the other hand, the carbon from fossil fuels originates from deposits that have been stored in the earth for tens of millions of years. When coal and oil are extracted from those deposits and burned for energy, “new” carbon from outside the terrestrial carbon cycle is added to the atmosphere. The result is a net increase in greenhouse gases. And that is what’s warming the climate.
In an interesting take on the difference between the two sources of carbon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture compares them to the relationship between landlords and tenants. Biogenic carbon emissions are like tenants who “stay only the duration of their short-term leases, and politely leave over time as the regenerating forest calls them back,” while fossil fuels are “carbon tenants who squat permanently in our home and change the balance we previously had.”
Think about it. Humans have been burning biomass – especially wood – as a primary source of heat for millennia. Yet, as paleoclimatologists have found, not until the industrial revolution, with its massive reliance on fossil fuels, have greenhouse gases begun to increase so dramatically in the atmosphere. Before the widespread use of fossil fuels, the maximum concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) held steady at a maximum of around 280 parts per million (ppm). Since then, however, that concentration has climbed to over 500 ppm, and it continues to increase.
The work of the national and international agencies and bodies directly responsible for the study, regulation and accounting of greenhouse gases is based on the fundamental finding that fossil fuel carbon, not biogenic carbon, is the problem. Among these organizations are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, to name a few.
It follows then, that a biomass-based industry like papermaking, which uses and emits mostly biogenic carbon, is not a major contributor to climate change. In fact, that’s what the numbers show. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Natural Resources Canada report that the pulp and paper industry in their respective countries is responsible for only 0.5% and 1.2% of total annual CO2-e emissions. The IPCC states that over the course of a year, the CO2 emissions from the combustion/oxidation/decay of biomass are balanced by carbon uptake prior to harvest, so the net emission is zero. IPCC also states that when used to displace fossil fuels, wood-based fuels can provide sustained carbon beneﬁts and constitute a large [carbon] mitigation option.
It is true that over the life cycle of paper, some carbon is released as greenhouse gases other than CO2. For example, paper that decomposes in landfills releases methane. However, the more paper products are recycled, the less methane is emitted, and paper is recycled more than any other material in the United States. By reducing the amount of paper products going to landfills through recycling, U.S. greenhouse gases emissions were lowered by 155 million metric tons of CO2-e in 2018 – the equivalent of taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year, this according to the U.S. EPA.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released updated projections about the effects of human activity on our planet, warning that inaction to immediately address climate risk will yield dire consequences. The IPCC’s conclusions and recommendations will no doubt be the subject of continuing debate, but there are three things that most people agree on: the climate is warming, humans play a role, and we need to do something about it.
However, without broad-based public understanding of how the environment works, there is an unfortunate tendency to believe that all manufacturing industries and processes must be part of the problem, a misconception that some in the ENGO community and the news media are only too happy to exploit. They push the thoroughly unscientific narrative that paper contributes massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, a byproduct of tree harvesting, manufacturing processes and paper waste. Far from mitigating climate change, it’s a narrative that could stifle an industry that is, in reality, a part of the solution.
Mitigating climate change demands a common-sense approach that is grounded in sound science, embraces proven strategies, and invests in driving continuous improvement. This approach, in a nutshell, is why the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a climate mitigation leader.
Paper’s Carbon Footprint
A look across the life cycle of paper shows that its carbon footprint can be divided into three basic elements: carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and avoided emissions. Each of these elements is influenced by important characteristics that distinguish paper from other products: it’s made from a renewable resource that stores carbon, it’s manufactured using mostly renewable, carbon neutral energy, and it’s easily recyclable.
Sustainable Forestry and Carbon Sequestration
Sustainable forest management, the cornerstone of the North American paper and paper-based packaging industry, helps increase the ability of forests to sequester carbon while also protecting and conserving other forest values like soil, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. An infinitely renewable resource, healthy forests sequester carbon by capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass through photosynthesis. The carbon stored in forests helps to offset releases of CO2 into the atmosphere from sources like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation (the permanent loss of trees).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that sustainable forest management practices resulted in net carbon sequestration each year between 1990 and 2018. As reported in the agency’s Inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks, U.S. forests and wood products captured and stored roughly 12% of all carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2018. CO2e is a measure of the global warming potential of all GHGs compared to CO2. The Canadian government reports that forestlands captured and stored around 19% of the country’s total CO2e emissions in 2018.
Planting new trees and improving forest health through thinning and prescribed burning are some of the ways to increase the uptake of forest carbon in the long run. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the perpetual cycle of harvesting and regenerating forests can also result in net carbon sequestration in products made from wood and in new forest growth. In its 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment, the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization reported that net forest area in the U.S. increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, while net forest area in Canada remained stable at around 857 million acres during those same years.
The Paper Industry and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The North American paper and paper-based packaging industry was among the first industries to take voluntary action to reduce GHG emissions. Between 2011 and 2019, the U.S. industry reduced greenhouse gas emissions from 44.2 million metric tons to 35.2 million metric tons or 20%, according to the US EPA. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reports that between 2007 and 2017 the Canadian industry reduced GHG emissions from 22 million metric tons to 13.1 million metric tons or 40%.
These reductions are attributed to the predominant use of carbon-neutral, wood-based biofuel (which accounts on average for around 60% of energy generation at North American mills), the switch from coal and oil to less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas, and investment in equipment and process enhancements that improved overall energy efficiency. Contrary to the claim that the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a major contributor to GHG emissions, EPA and NRCan data show that U.S. and Canadian producers account for only 0.5% of total GHGs in their respective countries. A continuing increase in the use of biomass energy at North American mills has the potential to reduce GHG emissions even further.
Some in the ENGO community argue that because biomass releases just as much CO2 in the atmosphere as fossil fuels, it isn’t really carbon neutral. But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other experts disagree. As DOE explains: “Burning biomass releases about the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide captured by photosynthesis millions of years ago – an essentially “new” greenhouse gas. Biomass, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that is largely balanced by the carbon dioxide captured in its own growth.”
In other words, biomass contains carbon that was only recently removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, and that same carbon is returned to the atmosphere as part of the natural carbon cycle when it is burned to generate energy. This inherent property exists whether or not trees are regrown. Sustainable forest management practices help make sure that biofuel use does not outpace forest regrowth. The IPCC concludes that, “Regardless of how carbon neutrality is defined and calculated, the use of forest biomass produced under conditions where forest carbon stocks are stable or increasing always yields long-term mitigation benefits.”
Avoided Emissions: Paper’s Recycling Success Story
When paper products are sent to landfills, they release GHGs as they decompose. When they are recycled, these GHG emissions are avoided. That’s a significant environmental benefit when you consider that around two-thirds of all paper and paper-based packaging is recovered for recycling in the U.S. and Canada, more than plastics, glass and metals combined. When you single out corrugated cardboard, the recovery rate jumps to nearly 90%. The US EPA reports that the amount of paper and paper-based packaging that was recycled instead of going to landfills lowered U.S. GHG emissions by 155 million metric tons of CO2e in 2018, an amount equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year.
The North American paper industry continues to invest billions of dollars in technology to increase the types of paper products that can be recycled as well as infrastructure investments that expand recycling capacity. For example, U.S. producers have announced or planned $4.5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments by 2023, more than $2.5 million per day. The industry also is focused on “recyclable by design” innovations that help brands, retailers and other end users develop fully recyclable paper packaging by eliminating non-recyclable elements.
Paper producers’ commitment to sustainable forest management, the use of renewable, carbon neutral energy, and strong support and investment in recycling has transformed the circularity of paper products from vision to reality, and will help to drive further GHG emission reductions.
For more facts about the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging, click here.
You’ve seen them in popular periodicals, industry newsletters and in your email: some self-interested group announces the completion of a “scientific comparison” that “proves” the superiority of an alternative material or “environmentally friendly” substitute for paper or paper-based packaging. The study appears to have all the trappings and buzz words of legitimate research, but is it?
To give you an idea of how Two Sides approaches this challenge, what follows are five signs that make us suspicious of half-baked or bogus comparisons to paper. You too can look for these signs whenever these studies cross your desk.
To begin with, anyone setting out to prove there’s a better alternative to paper products has a very high hurdle to clear: proving that theirs is more sustainable than paper or paper-based packaging. It can take a lot of data stretching and twisting to yield a conclusion often at odds with the facts, and that kind of manipulation leaves telltale signs.
Who commissioned the study? The first question to ask is best summed up with the Latin phrase, cui bono, who benefits? Was the research conducted in such a way that its results were preordained to support its sponsors? There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a self-interested group or competitor commissioning a study comparing its alternative with paper products, as long as it is honest, scientific, and the researchers are allowed to let the chips fall where they may.
Is it based on a real life cycle assessment (LCA) or is it a marketing piece in LCA disguise? Next, we look to see if the study is one of a growing cottage industry of marketing pieces wrapped in a veneer of life cycle terminology. A good first step is to determine if the study complies with the LCA principles and procedures developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), in this case ISO 14040 and 14044. ISO defines LCA as a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. A study that conforms with ISO standards carefully defines the products that are bring compared and what they are designed to do (what ISO calls their “functional unit”), sets specific study boundaries around the products, and meets other requirements, including how flows into or out of the production process should be allocated. Adherence to ISO standards doesn’t guarantee the scientific fairness or integrity of a study that makes environmental comparisons, but it makes it more difficult for the sponsors to bias their conclusions and easier to spot when they do.
What’s under the hood? No matter what the supposed pedigree of a study, we need to know what’s in it. Do the parts support the whole? For that very reason, two of the most critical principles of ISO 14040 for LCA studies are transparency and critical review, especially when two or more alternatives are being compared for public consumption. An LCA is transparent when its goals, methodology, data sources and assumptions are visible for all to see. A comparative LCA can only be trusted when we can be sure that it doesn’t set different goalposts for different products, a practice we often see in studies that purport to show the superiority of plastics or alternative-fiber paper to wood-fiber paper. We also check to see if there is an independent critical review by a third-party panel of three experts (a requirement to achieve ISO-conformance) and who is on that panel. ISO standards require that the LCA sponsors appoint panel members whose job it is to examine and comment on the integrity of the study at various stages in the process.
Are there footnotes to nowhere? When we’re confronted with conclusions that defy common sense, our instinct is to trace the data behind those conclusions to the specific, relevant research cited to support them, whether those findings were original to the study or whether they come from another credible source. Here’s where many of these claims break down. We often find that the trail of citations goes in circles, or nowhere at all. Some advocacy groups, in particular, have a habit of citing another advocacy group’s study, and that second group may not have conducted any original research either. The last reference in the chain may just be dangling in space, without any supporting data other than opinion or conjecture.
Does one size fit all? Another common practice is to use generic online environmental calculators. A surprising number of businesses, advocacy groups and even large corporations, who should know better, use these tools to generate data that will serve as the foundation for their conclusions. The lure – they’re typically free, easily accessible and deliver immediate results. However, unlike LCAs, which are product- and process-specific, online calculators are blunt instruments that of necessity are based on national industry averages – and sometimes on assumptions that don’t hold up in the real world. At best, they serve as a starting point to suggest further study. At worst, they are about as relevant to an individual product as a daily horoscope. Change a parameter here or there, and the result could be the opposite of what the calculator suggests.
In a similar way, companies or groups trying to avoid the time and expense of properly conducted LCAs often give in to the temptation to claim that someone else’s study validates their own product comparisons, suggesting, for example, that the results of an LCA on a corrugated box produced in Indonesia would apply to corrugated products produced in North America. Valid LCAs are as accurate a reflection of the processes used to manufacture an individual product as their practitioners can make them. For example, among other things, the LCA for a paper product would evaluate data from the specific mill that manufactured it – raw materials, chemicals, water and energy consumption, type of energy used, greenhouse gas emissions released and so on. With this level of specificity, what’s true for one product is highly unlikely to be true for another.
In the real world, comprehensive, ISO-conformant life cycle studies with external third-party critical review can be expensive and time- and labor-intensive, requiring careful assumptions, mountains of data and sound methodology. For those who market or advocate substitutes for paper products, LCAs often lead to conclusions they hadn’t anticipated and don’t like. Consequently, some of them opt for half-baked environmental comparisons they believe will throw the worst light on paper products.
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.
Kathi Rowzie, President
Two Sides North America, Inc.
The Canadian Paper and Paper-based Packaging industry is among the most sustainable industries in the world, but there are still significant gaps between public perceptions and actual fact when it comes to related environmental topics such as forestry, greenhouse gas emissions and recycling. For example, a recent Two Sides survey found that Canadian consumers rank pulp and paper products as a leading cause of deforestation – which they are not.
In Two Sides’ just-released fact sheet on the sustainability of the Canadian Paper and Paper-based Packaging industry, you’ll find a host of facts from credible third-party sources that set the record straight.
Two Sides members are permitted to co-brand the fact sheet with their own company logos. For more information on co-branding, please contact email@example.com.
Download the fact sheet here.
Who depends on print and paper more than anyone else this time of year? Why, Santa of course! A handwritten letter is still the method of choice for sending Christmas wish lists to the man in red. According to the U.S. Postal Service, hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus arrive at post offices across the country each December. Santa’s helpers, through programs like the USPS’s 100-year-old Operation Santa® program, respond to many of these letters, making holiday wishes come true for needy children.
In addition, the USPS provides a fun way for Santa to reply to children’s letters — complete with the North Pole postmark! The Greetings from the North Pole Post Office program adds to the excitement of Christmas and is ideal for getting kids interested in letter writing, stamps and penmanship. To participate, letters to Santa must be in the mail by December 7.
The time-honored tradition of putting ink on paper, sealing the envelope and dropping a letter to Santa in the mail is one of those very personal, tactile experiences that’s impossible to capture with an email. It’s also a very sustainable way to communicate with the North Pole’s most celebrated resident. In fact, we have it on good authority that Santa, a fellow known for keeping lists, uses the following “Top 10” to remind people that print on paper is a sound environmental choice.
Santa’s Top 10 Facts on Print and Paper Sustainability
Click here for more facts on the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging.
As support for Two Sides’ consumer-focused Love Paper campaign continues to grow, we are pleased to announced that the Love Paper logo is now available for on-product use!
Any company that uses print, paper and paper-based packaging, including brands, retailers, marketing agencies, printers, and paper and paper-based packaging manufacturers, can use the Love Paper® on-product logo to enhance their own sustainability messages.
The Love Paper® logo is a simple, eye-catching way to tell customers that you care about the environment and use products from an inherently sustainable industry. The logo’s subtle design and color variations are an effective yet unintrusive addition to any paper product, from printed catalogs and books to direct mail and product packaging.
To register to use the Love Paper® logo, simply click here or go to lovepaperna.org and click on the “On-product Logo Use” link at the top of the home page. Your organization must agree to the terms and conditions of logo use and complete the online registration form. You will be authorized to use the Love Paper on-product logo and will receive usage guidelines and a link to downloadable logo files after your application is approved by Two Sides.
Don’t miss the opportunity to promote the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging by using the Love Paper logo on your company’s products! Register today!
Love Paper® is a registered trademark of Two Sides Ltd, registered as an educational service providing information related to print media, paper and paper-based packaging.
Across all environmental issues related to the manufacture of paper-based products in North America, the harvesting of trees for wood fiber is arguably the most familiar, yet also the most misunderstood. Decades of misguided marketing messages that suggest using less paper protects forests along with deliberate anti-paper campaigns by environmental groups that twist scientific facts to suit their own agendas have left many feeling guilty for using products that are inherently sustainable. They are made from a renewable resource, are recyclable and are among the most recycled products in the world, and are manufactured using a high level of renewable energy – all key elements in a circular economy.
So, what’s the most effective way to reverse the misconceptions of those who believe the North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry is shrinking U.S. and Canadian forests? It’s simple: Show them the data.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been monitoring the world’s forests at five- to 10-year intervals since 1946. The FAO’s 2020 global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) presents a comprehensive view of the world’s forests and the ways in which this important resource changed between 1990 and 2020. The data from 236 countries were collected using commonly agreed upon terms and definitions through a transparent, traceable reporting process and a well-established network of officially nominated national representatives. These include the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Canada.
Since 1990, there has been a net loss of 440 million acres of forests globally, an area larger than the entire state of Alaska. A net change in forest area is the sum of all forest losses (deforestation) and all forest gains (forest expansion) in a given period. FAO defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses, regardless of whether it is human-induced. FAO specifically excludes from its definition areas where trees have been removed by harvesting or logging because the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or with the aid of sustainable forestry practices.
In contrast, despite deforestation by urban development, fire, insects and other causes, total forest area in the United States actually increased and forest area in Canada has remained stable since 1990. This is due in great part to sustainable forest management practices implemented by the North American paper and forest products industry, the highest percentage of certified forests (nearly 50%) in the world, and laws and regulations aimed at protecting forest resources.
The world has a total forest area of around 10 billion acres or 31% of total land area. More than half (54%) of these forests are in just five countries – the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.
Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020 at 9.6 million acres, followed by South America, at 6.4 million acres.
While the net loss of 440 million acres of forest is troubling, there is some improvement in the global numbers. The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation (establishing forest where none existed previously) and the natural expansion of forests. The annual rate of net forest loss declined from 19.2 million acres in 1990–2000 to 12.8 million acres in 2000–2010 and 11.6 million acres in 2010–2020.
While an estimated 1.04 billion acres of forest have been lost worldwide to deforestation since 1990, the rate of deforestation also declined substantially. Between 2015 and 2020, the annual global rate of deforestation was estimated at around 25 million acres, down from 30 million acres between 2010 and 2015.
Globally, 54% of forests have long-term forest management plans. FAO defines forest management as the process of planning and implementing practices for the stewardship and use of forests targeted at specific environmental, economic, social and cultural objectives. Around 96% of forestlands in Europe has management plans, 64% in Asia, less than 25% in Africa and only 17% in South America.
U.S. and Canada Data
According to the 2020 FRA, the United States and Canada account for 8% and 9%, respectively, of the world’s total forest area.
In the U.S., total forest area increased by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, which averages out to the equivalent of around 1,200 NFL football fields every day. Canada’s total forest area remained relatively stable over the 30-year assessment period at approximately 857 million acres.
Approximately 59% of forestlands in North America has long-term forest management plans.
Help Spread the Word!
The North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry plays a significant role in keeping U.S. and Canadian forests sustainable for future generations, and that’s something to be very proud of. One of the best ways to show that pride is by taking every available opportunity to bust the myth that the production of paper products destroys forests. For more facts to help you spread the word, check out our Two Sides fact sheet on Paper Production and Sustainable Forestry here.
Many banks, utilities, telecoms and other service providers continue to encourage (and sometimes force) their customers to switch from paper to electronic communications, using claims that electronic communication is “greener,” “saves trees” or “protects the planet” as justification. One can only conclude that the CEOs of these companies are either 1) misinformed about the inherent sustainability of print and paper, the rapidly expanding environmental footprint of digital communication or both, 2) trusting marketing teams who don’t bother to validate environmental claims or 3) seeking to save costs by ignoring established environmental marketing rules from the U.S. FTC and Canadian Standards Association that say marketers “should not make broad, unqualified environmental benefit claims like “green” and that “claims should be clear, prominent and specific.”
Growth of electronic devices and e-waste
There’s no arguing that the use of electronic devices has exploded over the last decade. According to a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Americans (81%) now own smartphones, up from just 35% in 2011. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults now own desktop or laptop computers, and roughly half now own tablets and e-readers. This boom has resulted in many advances that make our lives more efficient, productive and enjoyable. But it has also brought with it serious and increasing environmental, health and economic consequences.
According to the recently released Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) 2020, a record 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) of electronic waste was generated in 2019, up 21% in just five years. For perspective, last year’s e-waste weighed as much as 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2, enough to form a line 76 miles long. The GEM describes e-waste as discarded products with a battery or plug. Small electronic equipment, screens and monitors, small IT and telecommunication equipment comprised more than half of global e-waste last year. The U.S. and Canada collectively generated 7.7 Mt of electronic waste in 2019. That’s 46 lbs. per person, and nearly three times the worldwide per capita generation of 16 lbs.
The report also predicts global e-waste, will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost a doubling of e-waste in just 16 years. This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, fueled by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic devices, short device life cycles and few options for repair. Many people now see devices and appliances as ultimately disposable, simply discarding them when it’s time for an upgrade. Others may hold on to them, but are unable to find a cost-effective way to repair them.
Little e-waste is recycled
The GEM found that only 17.4% of e-waste was collected and recycled globally in 2019, with only 15% of e-waste in North America recycled. Most e-waste was either dumped or burned rather than being collected for recycling and reuse.
Numerous toxic and hazardous substances are found in electronic equipment and pose severe risk to the environment and human health when not handled in an environmentally sound manner. Recent research cited in the GEM found that unregulated e-waste is associated with increasing numbers of adverse health effects, from birth defects and altered neurodevelopment to DNA damage, adverse cardiovascular and respiratory effects and cancer.
E-waste also represents a huge economic loss. When electronic devices are simply thrown away, high-value, recoverable materials such as iron, copper and gold are thrown away with them. “If we cannot recycle electronic waste, we’re not taking back materials into the loop, which means we have to extract new raw materials,” says Vanessa Forti, the lead author of the GEM. It’s estimated that the value of raw materials in all global e-waste generated in 2019 equaled a staggering $57 billion US, more than the gross domestic product of most countries.
Electronic communication, energy consumption and climate change
The miniaturization of equipment and the “invisibility” of the infrastructures used leads many to underestimate the environmental footprint of digital technology. This phenomenon is reinforced by the widespread availability of services on the “cloud,” which makes the physical reality of use all the more imperceptible and leads to underestimating the direct environmental impacts of digital technology.
By 2023, global tech giant Cisco estimates that North America will have 345 million internet users (up from 328 million in 2018), and 5 billion networked devices/connections (up from 3 billion in 2018). The U.S. Department of Energy reports that U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 70 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2014, representing about 1.8% of total U.S. electricity consumption. Based on current trend estimates, U.S. data centers are projected to consume approximately 73 billion kWh in 2020. This energy consumption does not include the energy required to build, power or recharge the devices.
According to The Shift Project, a carbon transition think tank, 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 double to 8% by 2025. The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory analyzed 113 information technology companies in 2014 and found that only 14% of the energy consumed was from renewable sources.
The contrasts between electronic and paper communications are well-defined
The magnitude of the negative impacts resulting from the use of electronic communication should be cause enough for companies to abandon their unverifiable greenwashing claims that going digital is better for the environment, but the comparison with paper-based communication should seal the deal for those that are committed to responsible marketing practices.
Since its inception, Two Sides has been working to end corporate greenwashing of digital communication. For more information about Two Sides’ Anti-greenwash Campaign, click here.
For more facts on electronic communication and other paper sustainability topics, click here.