Letter to the Editor at The Washington Post: Readers Should Be Educated About the Sustainability of Paper Products

In the July 6 editorial “Plastic is everywhere. We can no longer ignore that.” the board raises a number of important issues. But equally significant is what is not said, namely that not all “single use” materials are created equal. You write that plastics persist in many harmful forms in our rivers and oceans. But paper biodegrades into organic matter that readily reenters the biosphere. You lament the low, nine percent recycling rate for plastic, but paper’s recycling recovery rate stands at a whopping 68.1 percent. You repeat the petrochemical industry’s claims about competitors’ carbon footprint, but the reality is paper mills now self-generate about two-thirds of their power from carbon-neutral biofuels.

Educating readers about these differences is critical to crafting better tailored and more effective policy solutions to our ecological challenges. For instance, regressive taxes on paper bags are a solution in search of a problem and only serve to burden working people who can least afford them. Paper recycling has been successful because market forces, not government mandates or bans, have led to investment in paper recycling infrastructure. When it comes to paper and boxes, Americans need to know they should keep putting them in the bin!

Donna Harman
President and CEO
American Forest & Paper Association