HOW SUSTAINABLE IS PAPER PACKAGING?
James Cropper gives its view on some of the most frequently asked paper and packaging-related questions.
Whilst the digital world continues to grow at pace you cannot go anywhere without realising the importance of paper. Bio-based paper materials are made from renewable raw materials that have a natural origin, and are an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Paper is used for hundreds of purposes from the books we read, a cup for that coffee on the go, to packaging to mark that special occasion.
Packaging is fundamental to brand identity, with 72% of consumers directly influenced by packaging in their purchasing decisions, increasing to 81% when the purchase is a gift. Consumers are demanding eco-friendly options, from biodegradable solutions to strikingly colourful materials and innovative textures, all with a low carbon footprint.
James Cropper produces custom-made papers and boards for premium packaging. As our society races to abandon fossil-based materials, the demand for paper packaging has increased - along with questions regarding the environmental impact of these products and the way that forests are being managed to supply the dominant raw material for papermaking.
Everything else being equal, sourcing locally will be better. However, when it comes to packaging, the largest climate impact is often from the raw material inputs and how the product is designed. Sourcing low-impact products from renewable sources, creating a mono-material design for easy and efficient recycling, and light-weighting the pack design will have a more substantial effect on the packaging impact. So, the choice of materials and design is a critical factor.
Are forests being cut down at a massive rate to make paper?
It is true that wood is one of the main raw materials for papermaking. However, the paper industry is a relatively small user of wood; only around 11% of the wood that is logged from the world’s forests is used in paper and pulp production. The majority of timber from the forest products industry is used for wood products in construction for houses and furniture, whilst the pulping process for paper uses the by-products; wood left-over from construction, sawmill residues and forest thinnings.
The wood sources that we use for papermaking are all derived from responsibly managed forests, certified to FSC® or PEFC® chain of custody. Detailed models for forest mapping are built that allow trees to be harvested sustainably. For each tree that is cut down, several are planted or naturally regrown in its place, at a rate that keeps the environment stable….and European forests have in fact grown by over 30% since the 1950s.
When we safeguard replanting and care for the forest ecosystem, future generations can continue to use the forest resources as we have done. Sustainable forest management is also helping to sequester carbon and fight the effects of climate change. In fact, the overall positive climate effect of European forests and the forest-based sector is estimated at -806 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – carbon that is stored in forests and products.
Is recycled better than fresh fibre for the climate?
Paper fits into the circular economy model seamlessly. Paper is made from a natural and sustainable resource and is easily recycled to ensure valuable fibres are used time and time again. In terms of climate impact, the majority of the impact for both recycled and virgin paper is attributable to the combustion of fuels for pulp and paper production. However, assuming best in class technology is used, the impacts from virgin and recycled paper are broadly similar.
Without fresh fibre the paper cycle cannot continue, as recycled fibres become shorter and shorter and eventually unusable for papermaking. Recycling of all paper products makes sense, as it is important to make the best use of this valuable raw material. However, we believe the key to zero compromise in terms of quality and environmental impact is absolutely in a blend of virgin and reclaimed fibre.
What measures are in place to protect Ancient Forest areas?
James Cropper has joined the Pack4Good initiative from Canopy Planet. Pack4Good works with global brands and innovators to transform paper packaging supply chains, scale-up sustainable solutions and protect and manage our forests responsibly.
Our commitment is to protect and conserve Ancient and Endangered forests, biodiversity and ecosystems by ensuring that we do not source fibre or pulp from controversial or endangered habitats. 100% of our fresh fibre is from responsibly managed forestry, and by 2025 50% of fibre for papermaking will be from recovered streams.
There are innovative solutions that exist right now that benefit both industry and the planet. Solutions that utilise alternative fibres such as textile and agricultural waste, to make strong, attractive, and versatile packaging.
The dedicated FibreBlend Upcycled Technology team at the James Cropper mill is committed to perpetual sustainable fibre innovation. From the world’s first technology to upcycle used coffee cups to the industry leading incorporation of used jeans into fully recyclable paper for packaging - transforming waste into beautiful paper and packaging is a triumph in fibre blending.
As society continues to look for solutions to tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and waste, the true value of paper is becoming recognised, and that can only be a good thing.
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