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.
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.
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.
Kathi Rowzie, President
Two Sides North America
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.
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.
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.
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
CHICAGO – March 30, 2021 – After starting Two Sides North America nearly a decade ago and building it into the highly successful organization it is today, Phil Riebel will retire as president of the organization effective April 1. Kathi Rowzie, who has been running the day-to-day operations of Two Sides since last March, will become president.
“Everyone who has worked with Phil over the years knows him as a trusted colleague and passionate advocate for the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging,” said Jeff Hester, chairman of the Two Sides North America board of directors. “Our industry has benefitted enormously from his efforts to build Two Sides into an organization whose voice is recognized and respected across the paper value chain and among many of North America’s leading corporations. As Phil moves on from his Two Sides role to pursue other opportunities within the industry, I want to thank him on behalf of the board of directors for his dedicated service to our Two Sides members and our industry. Though Phil is stepping down, he will remain associated with Two Sides’ mission as a valuable advocate in our strategic efforts.”
“We also want to express our enthusiastic support for Kathi as she steps into her expanded role,” said Bill Rojack, vice chairman of the Two Sides board of directors. “She brings a unique combination of paper industry, sustainability and communications expertise that will help us continue to build on Two Sides’ success.”
Rowzie’s career spans more than 30 years in corporate and consulting roles with Fortune 500 companies, including extensive experience in the paper industry and with industry customers. A longtime advocate of Two Sides, her association goes back to the organization’s beginning, when as a consultant, she was instrumental in helping launch the Two Sides website, educational tools and marketing materials.
“Kathi continues to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives that will be critically important as increasing consumer, government and ENGO attention to the sustainability of print and paper products makes Two Sides’ work more important than ever,” Hester added. “The board looks forward to working with her as we seek to take Two Sides to the next level.”
Note: The phone number for Two Sides North America has changed to 937-999-7729. The email address will remain email@example.com.
Photos of Riebel and Rowzie may be downloaded 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.
All too often we see email footers with negative and misleading messages about the environmental impacts of print and paper. Messages like “Think before you print – Our forests will thank you” and “Please consider the environment before printing this email” imply that electronic communication always has a lower environmental impact than printed materials.
But this conclusion is not supported by credible and reliable scientific evidence. Such claims not only fail to consider the growing environmental footprint of our electronic infrastructure, but also ignore the unique sustainable features of print and paper.
Paper is made from a natural, renewable resource (wood from trees grown in sustainably managed forests) and is one of the most recycled commodities in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the energy used to produce paper in North America comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. When produced and used responsibly, print on paper is an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.
So, if you need a more convenient or permanent copy of your emails, don’t feel guilty about printing them! But be sure to recycle those you don’t need as a permanent record.
If you’d like to share the great sustainability story of print and paper in your email footer, here are a few alternatives to consider:
• Responsibly produced paper has unique sustainable features. It comes from a renewable resource and is highly recyclable. If you print, please recycle.
• The demand for sustainably produced paper supports sustainable forest management in North America. The income landowners receive for trees grown on their land encourages them to sustainably manage, renew and maintain this valuable resource.
• Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world and is made from trees grown in sustainably managed North American forests – a natural and renewable resource.
• Paper is based on a natural and renewable raw material – trees. Sustainably managed North American forests are good for the environment, providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.
• Print on paper is a practical, attractive, and sustainable communications medium. If you print, please recycle.
You can find more great email footers to promote the sustainability of print and paper here. We’ve also created an Information Sheet on Alternative Email Footers that you can download and share with your colleagues, customers and other stakeholders.
For more information and supporting facts related to our suggested email footers, be sure to check out our Two Sides Fact Sheets.
Earlier this month, the global forestry advisory body to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) released details on how sustainable forest management and forest products are well-positioned to drive a healthy, green and inclusive recovery as the world continues to face serious challenges related to COVID-19. In its statement, the Advisory Committee of Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI) referenced the essential role that forestry and forest products have played during the pandemic – and how they can help drive much-needed economic recovery.
ACSFI is a statutory body that guides FAO on issues concerning the sustainable consumption and production of forest products. It also provides a forum for dialogue between FAO and the private sector, with a view to identifying strategic actions that promote sustainable forest management. The United States and Canada are represented on the committee by American Forest and Paper Association President and CEO Heidi Brock and Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor, respectively.
The ACSFI statement highlights that during the pandemic, forest products have played a crucial role in keeping people safe and healthy by providing personal protective equipment and other supplies and services, including hygiene and sanitary products, biomass for heating, ethanol for sanitizer, respirator paper, and packaging for food and other goods. In order to continue the uninterrupted supply of these products, the paper and forest products sector has been appropriately recognized in many parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, as an essential service.
As policy makers work to enable sustainable approaches to COVID-19 recovery and support industries that can help ensure a better future, the ACSFI advises that sustainable forest-based industries provide:
The paper and forest products industry and our workers across North America continue to embrace this call to action by delivering quality products with health and environmental benefits, practical solutions to lower our carbon footprint and family-supporting jobs for our people. The ACSFI global statement confirms that we have opportunities to do even more.
You can read the full ACSFI statement here.