Time for some
paper myth busting.
As eCommerce grows, so does the chatter. You’ve likely heard all manner of facts and fables about paper packaging, its recycling properties and its carbon footprint compared to plastic. But what’s true, and what’s not? We are about to bust some common paper myths, and you might be surprised by the facts.
Myth 1: To be sustainable, we should only use recycled paper products. Fresh fibre in packaging is not needed because paper can be recycled 25 times or more.
Fact: According to industry estimates, paper can be recycled on average 4 to 7 times.
We can recycle paper, but only to a limit because fresh fibres naturally degrade over time, compromising paper strength, quality and availability. Also, if you are shipping food and hygiene products, fresh fibre is needed to meet legal requirements.
It’s all about sourcing fresh fibres from sustainably managed forests to maintain the paper cycle. A minimum of 40% fresh fibre input is needed to make the global fibre cycle work and, without the input of fresh fibre, the production of paper would cease after roughly 6 to 18 months.
Myth 2: Paper has a higher carbon footprint than plastic, so it’s better to continue using plastic mailers.
Fact: Paper can be sourced in a sustainable way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, maintains zero deforestation, and safeguards biodiversity and water resources. Mondi commits to these targets to lower the carbon footprint of paper products.
It depends on the application of the material – how it is sourced, processed, transported, used and disposed of at the end of life. For example, paper-based solutions from renewable, responsible sources are often fully recyclable at scale and in practice. On the other hand, plastic solutions often have very high material efficiency in being lightweight and strong but usually are not recycled at scale. So the product carbon footprint is one of many key considerations when choosing a packaging solution.
There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ materials since sustainable approaches in packaging are often a trade-off depending on each application. Our approach is to use paper where possible, plastic when useful.
But, it’s worth noting that the European paper industry has cut carbon emissions by 27% since 2005. It’s also the largest industrial generator and user of renewable energy in Europe.
Myth 3: Many products are recyclable, so it doesn’t matter what I use.
Fact: Paper is the world’s most recycled material.
The current recycling rate in Europe for fibre-based packaging is 84%, compared to 66% globally.* Why? Consumers know how and where to recycle paper. Second, the collection and sorting techniques are more mature. Overall, it’s an easy process.
Ideally, all packaging and materials would be recycled or reused to keep materials in circulation and retain their value. It’s just that the level of knowledge across the entire supply chain for flexible plastic packaging isn’t as developed, and there is a need for a harmonised approach to developing the collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure needed.
*Sources: Eurostat and International Council of Forest and Paper Association (ICFPA). Sustainability Report 2019s
Myth 4: Forests are shrinking. If all packaging is switched to paper, forests will disappear. Even if you print your return label, you’ve killed a tree.
Fact: Forest areas in Europe expanded by 19.3 million hectares over the last 30 years.*
Deforestation is indeed a critical challenge across the world, contributing to global warming. European paper producers should focus on sourcing from Sustainable Working Forests to produce fresh fibre responsibly.
Only 11% of the world’s forests are certified to date. 100% of our own forests are FSCTM certified, and more than 90% of the wood that Mondi purchases is sourced domestically where our mills are located.
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We know it can be hard to decipher the good from the bad in a complex supply chain. From material sourcing to product recycling, we are here to support you in finding the ideal solutions to reach your sustainability goals. By being sustainable by design, you can enhance your brand value.
More about this topic was covered during the Lets Paper the World webinar in May. You can get full access to the recording right here.
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