Paper or Plastic? What is your environmental choice?

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 06/04/2018

More and more corporations are recognizing the unique sustainable features of paper-based products

The theme for this years’ United Nations World Environment Day (June 5, 2018) is ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’. Coincidentally, the feature article and cover of the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine is entitled ‘Planet or Plastic'.

Such environmental concerns related to plastic has caused an increasing number of companies to seek alternatives with more favorable environmental features, such as paper and paper-based packaging.

McDonald's in the U.K. is testing the use of biodegradable paper straws to replace plastic straws to see how people respond to the change. As the U.K. moves to ban all sales of single-use plastics such as straws as early as 2019, finding a suitable alternative has become urgent. 

The company Boxed Water has focused its product marketing (Boxed Water is Better) on its paper-based containers to counter the negative news about the environmental impact of plastic bottles.  Their packaging is sourced from FSC certified forests where sustainable management practices are used to ensure long-term forest health and reduce environmental impacts.  Boxed Water also plant enough trees annually to more than offset the CO2 produced by manufacturing their boxes.  

Apple has brought an environmental focus to its retail stores by switching its iconic plastic drawstring Apple Store bags for paper bags made from 80% recycled materials. Apple is also replacing some in-store plastic gift cards with paper ones and intends to move towards paper packaging.

Why are companies making the switch from plastic to paper? Because paper is made from a renewable, sustainable resource and is the most recycled product in the world.  Paper is based on wood, a natural and renewable material. Sustainably managed forests help to reduce CO2 levels, a tremendous asset when it comes to dealing with climate change.  As young trees grow they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and paper continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime. 

The American Forest & Paper Association reported that 65.8% of paper products were recovered in the U.S. in 2017. More paper products are recovered for recycling than any other material including plastics (9.5%), glass (27%) and metals (34%).  The recovery rate is even higher when it comes to paper-based packaging. In 2017, 88.8% of corrugated (cardboard) was recovered in the U.S. and, in Canada, the recovery rate for paper-based packaging is estimated at 85%.  Furthermore, a significant portion of paper-based packaging is made with recycled fiber. 

These features, combined with the North American paper industry’s advocacy for responsible forestry practices and certification, use of renewable, carbon-neutral biofuels and advances in efficient papermaking technology, make paper a product with unique and desirable sustainable features.