Why Think Paper?

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The paper and wood products industry has for decades been a leader in the global public conversation about sustainability—innovating solutions that make people’s lives easier without making Mother Nature’s life harder.

But recently, there has been a noticeable shift in the discourse around paper-based products. In the press, among our competitors, at city halls and in activist campaigns, we too often see errors and distortions that mislead the public. Whether driven by legitimate concerns over pressing challenges—like ocean waste or the future of the global recycling market—or motivated by more cynical concerns, paper is being lumped in with other consumer materials, and words like “disposable” or “single-use” are being misused to obscure paper’s unique and uniquely sustainable life cycle. 

But not all materials are the same, and we have a responsibility to our employees, our communities and to everyone who cares about the environment to correct the record wherever and whenever it is needed.  

The fact is that paper and paper-based packaging are made from a renewable raw material and are the most-recycled materials, by weight, in the U.S. today. They come from responsibly managed forests that help absorb carbon from the atmosphere. And they are manufactured to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Not only is paper made from non-fossil renewable material, our industry also has, for decades, been moving away from fossil-fueled power and now provides on average, about two-thirds of its own energy from renewable sources. 

While in a perfect world, 100-percent of our products would be recycled, we are proud that in 2018, 68.1 percent of our products were recovered for recycling. Whatever their end of life, most of our products break down into the basic organic materials that sustain life on this planet.  

When journalists, activists, policymakers and competitors withhold these facts from the public, or willfully conflate paper with other materials, it isn’t just our industry that gets hurt. When consumers lose confidence in paper products or when politicians impose taxes on their use, the result is less demand for a recyclable and renewable material, and in turn, less incentive for the many thousands of family land owners we work with to maintain and grow their forests.

For decades the trend in American forests has been growth, and that growth has been driven in part by demand for forest products. In a bitter irony, the misguided attacks on our products could result in what so many of our critics say they fear: deforestation, as land owners permanently convert their forests into other uses.

But we don’t intend to let that happen. And we will use this space to help make sure that it doesn’t. Our goal is to explain to the public – and to remind those who seem to have forgotten – that when you want to think sustainable, when you want to think renewable, when you want to think responsible, when you want to think about the future of the planet, you should think paper.