Does paper production promote forest loss? How often are paper products recycled? Is paper renewable? The answers to these questions have been muddied by online misinformation, leaving consumers confused.
Although corrugated has been proven as one of the more sustainable packaging materials, consumers still have a distorted perception of its impact on the environment due to widespread misinformation. Popular myths have perpetuated the idea that the paper industry is destructive to the environment and eco-irresponsible.
Once you start looking at the facts and percentages, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The paper-making process is actually one of the least damaging and most cyclical industrial processes in North America.
Here are some common myths about the environmental friendliness of paper-based packaging materials — and the real facts behind them.
Does Paper Production Promote Forest Loss?
No! The areas of the world with the least amount of wood consumption actually suffer the greatest forest loss. North American forests, which are often used in the process of paper production, are actually growing rather than shrinking.
A common misconception is that since cutting down trees is required for paper production, it must have a negative impact on forests. The reason this isn’t the case is that the paper industry incentivizes landowners to take proper care of forested land and to keep it forested rather than develop it into something else.
Trees are planted, grown, harvested, and replanted, with significantly more trees planted than harvested annually in North America. This allows our wood supply to continue growing without negatively impacting forests.
How Often Are Paper Products Recycled?
Paper products are recycled at an incredibly high rate in the United States. Over ⅔ of paper used is recycled in the U.S., and more than 90 percent of corrugated.
Corrugated had a 96 percent recovery rate in 2018, which is higher than any other packaging material. Paper and paperboard landed second at 78 percent, with plastic arriving last at only 15 percent.
One myth about paper-based products is that a significant portion ends up in landfills rather than getting recycled. Since paper products are easily sorted and recycled and paper-specific recycling efforts have ramped up over the years, this is not true. Corrugated and other paper-related packaging products are very recyclable — and very often recycled.
Is Paper Renewable or Not?
Since paper is made from wood, and wood is both a renewable and recyclable resource, the answer is a resounding yes. The creation, consumption, and recycling of paper is cyclical, as North American forests are continually growing, the process uses mostly carbon-neutral biofuel, and paper products are highly recycled in the U.S.
One of the greatest myths about paper products is that electronic communication has less negative impact on the environment than physical, paper-based communication. In reality, the U.S. generates 7 million metric tons of e-waste yearly with only a 15 percent recycle rate, and digital technology releases more than 10 times more greenhouse gases than the paper-making process.
So not only is paper made from a renewable resource and recycled at an impressively high rate, but its well-established cyclical nature actually makes it a much more sustainable mode of communication than digital methods. Corrugated packaging also has a high reuse rate, adding time to its initial life cycle before the recycling process.
So How Can I Know What’s True and What Isn’t?
A lot of the information you may find online is hearsay, or related to current trends rather than based in fact. The best way to make sure you’re well-informed about any topic is to research on your own using fact-based sources.
We’ve compiled a small list of our favorite resources about the environmental impacts of the paper industry and corrugated packaging below to help you sift through misinformation on your journey to a more eco-friendly lifestyle:
- Two Sides North America — their myth-busting fact sheets tell a balanced story about sustainability in the paper and pulp industry
- Sustainability Forest Initiative — the resources on this website can help you learn more about current initiatives to make forestry more sustainable and navigate paper-related product labels to identify those that are sourced responsibly
- American Forest & Paper Association — their studies lead to comprehensive reports on the sustainability of the American paper industry and forestry systems
- Corrugated.org — this website is specific to corrugated material, often used in the packaging industry, and it gives updated reports on the LCA (life cycle assessment) of corrugated
- Board Converting News — this news source helps decision-makers in the American corrugated and folding carton industries with reliable, up-to-date information, and often reports on the sustainable qualities of corrugated as new information is revealed
Jamestown Offers Sustainable Packaging Solutions
Jamestown has been helping customers navigate packaging challenges for over 60 years. As a corrugated-focused packaging manufacturer, minimizing our negative impact on the environment is a core part of our company’s mission.
As customers become more eco-conscious, sustainable packaging initiatives make sense both fiscally and responsibly. The experts at Jamestown are well-versed in creating custom solutions for brands that combine environmental concerns with design considerations and monetary factors.