Paper and paperboard packaging are incredibly sustainable products, but sometimes misconceptions can make consumers question our industry’s environmentally-friendly nature. Here are seven common sustainability myths—and what you can say to empower people to use paper.
1. Making paper “kills” trees.
Would you walk into McDonalds and say that they kill potatoes to make French fries? Nope! Saying that papermaking hurts trees is just as illogical. The truth is, tree farms are planted and replanted for the very purpose of making paper products. Trees are a crop, just like the potatoes or apples we eat.[i] And unlike other products, paper is renewable. We can grow as many trees as we want for a virtually endless supply of paper and paperboard.
2. Forests are endangered when we make paper.
Wrong again! 89% of the pulpwood harvested in the United States comes from private tree farms.[ii] That means that using paper actually incentivizes these landowners to maintain their forestlands. If we stopped using paper, they might very well develop their land into real estate—and once the trees are gone, they’re gone for good. Fortunately we do use paper, and when we use paper, we grow more and more trees. Today, the United States has 20 percent more trees than it did on the first Earth Day celebration in 1970![iii]
3. It is wasteful to use paper.
Far from wasteful, paper is one of the most recycled and recyclable products in use today. The wood fibers that make up paper can be recycled up to seven times, and the United States is taking advantage of this recyclability. For example, in 2011, 76 percent of paper and paperboard mills used some recovered paper, and 113 mills used only recovered paper. In 2014, 96 percent of Americans had access to community recycling programs, and U.S. paper recovery for recycling reached a record 67.2 percent in 2016.[iv]
4. Paper has no place in our digital world.
This is a myth, and you know it firsthand from working in the paperboard packaging industry. The North American paperboard market is worth $10 billion, and in 2016 we shipped more than 4.9 million tons of packaging to brands, and then to consumers, across the country.[v]
Additionally, students and parents alike prefer paper when it comes to learning. According to a study from the Paper and Packaging Board, 96 percent of parents feel that paper is essential to learning. 70 percent of 7-12 grade students prepare for tests by taking handwritten notes, and 50 percent surveyed in grades 7 and 8 believe they best learn information by handwriting it. When it comes to exam preparation, over eight 80 percent of college students report always or often using paper tools such as notecards, handouts, study sheets or printed lectures.[vi]
People are still reading paper books, too. 70% of Americans, including 69% of 18- to 24-year-olds, say they prefer to read print and paper communications rather than reading from a screen.[vii]
5. Digital communications are greener than print.
Not so fast! Our friends at Two Sides North America have done extensive work to debunk marketing claims like “go paperless, go green.” The truth is, electronic communication has environmental impacts. It’s estimated that internet equipment in America’s homes consumed more than $1 billion worth of electricity in 2012, resulting in five million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the annual equivalent of the tailpipe emissions of 1.1 million vehicles![viii] While many companies want you to believe that going digital is environmentally friendly, it has its own costs.
6. Even if its sustainable, paper still has a big carbon footprint.
Actually, paper and paperboard’s carbon footprint is surprisingly small. Through the process of photosynthesis, every tree can absorb more than 10 pounds of carbon each year—offsetting the carbon that’s emitted during the papermaking process. In fact, each year the United States’ forests store enough carbon to offset about 12 percent of the entire nation’s carbon emissions![ix]
7. The economy won’t be affected if we stop using paper.
Did you know that the U.S. forest products industry employs approximately 900,000 men and women? Working forests themselves support 2.5 million jobs, $235 billion in annual sales, $87 billion in payroll, $4.4 billion in state income and severance taxes, and $102 billion to the GDP.[x] Clearly, paper supports a healthy portion of the U.S. economy.
Ready to spread the truth about paper and paperboard packaging? A good place to start is your very own community with PPC’s TICCIT® program. Our popular educational outreach initiative allows you to teach school-aged children about the environmental benefits of trees and paper. TICCIT events usually take place around Earth Day, so now is the time to contact a school and begin planning! Visit paperbox.org/ticcit to get started.