Is PAPER really better than PLASTIC?


A 2020 European consumer preference survey commissioned by Two Sides found that 62% of consumers see paper packaging as better for the environment than plastic.


We’ve seen brands switch to paper packing as a quick solution to reduce plastic usage and be -- and be perceived as -- environmentally conscious. 


As with most things, there isn’t a simple answer. The best our findings came up with was.. 




Here’s the YES part:


1.    Paper and cardboard are made from renewable resources. 


Trees. Trees over time, a human lifetime, give or take, regenerate themselves. As we learned last week, most plastics are made from petroleum. Oil. A fossil fuel that is not a renewable resource. In fact, oil is finite. It forms S L O W L Y over millions of years and is being used much faster than it can be replaced. 



You know, global deforestation. We need paper sourced from trees in sustainably managed forests. Otherwise, deforestation can wreak its own havoc by accelerating the rate of Climate Change, soil erosion, flooding, and more.



2.            Paper is easier to recycle than plastic AND decomposes at a MUCH FASTER rate than plastic.


Being a non-synthetic material, recycling paper doesn’t require chemicals or advanced technology like plastic. It’s simpler. For that reason, paper recycling is more forgiving of contaminants than plastics. Experts say it’s much easier to make 90%+ post-consumer recycled paper than it is 90% post-consumer recycled plastic.


Paper ending up in a landfill can break down in a matter of weeks. Whereas plastic takes 400 to 1,000 years to breakdown. Eliminating the threat of paper accumulating in marine ecosystems for hundreds of years, posing a significant threat to wildlife. 



Add waterproof coatings, resins, and plastic laminating to paper, and recycling becomes much harder. And longer to decompose. 




3.            The global paper industry has a much lower carbon footprint than global plastics


Research from the University of California Santa Barbra finds the global lifecycle-- think sourcing, production to end-of-life-- for plastics make up 3.8% of global GHG emissions. If plastic was a country, it would be the 5th largest GHG emitter in the world. Whereas the paper, pulp & printing industry contributes 0.8% of global GHG emissions as reported by Two Sides.



The manufacturing process itself uses 3x the amount of energy to make paper, compared to plastic. Ugh. Trees must be de-barked and converted into chips. Add water to make pulp. Then remove water make paper. I may have left a few details, but you get the idea. 


A study by Boustead Consulting & Associates Ltd. finds that it takes 3.4x times more energy to make paper bags compared to single-use plastic bags. Bioplastics are slightly better, but still use 2.7x more energy than traditional plastic.


Paper is also heavier to transport. Potentially resulting in higher vehicle emissions and fuel costs.





After weighing the odds is paper better than plastic?


After weighing the pros and cons, YES. It is. 


BUT... we are painfully aware that while paper is often a better, more sustainable choice, it’s far from perfect.


We have work to do in finding truly sustainable options for the future of packaging. Join us!


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Let’s build a greener future one box at a time. 


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- Packaging Article 1: What’s the big deal about Plastics

- Packaging Article 2: Bioplastics 101


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