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Paper Products
Adobe Stock/ Pixel-Shot
By Dr. Mohamed Abaas

The preservation of Earth’s forests is crucial for all living beings to thrive. Forests clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and are a home for over two-thirds of terrestrial wildlife and plants. Right now, forests are under stress due to deforestation practices. Within the next 10 years, over 6.5 million square miles of forest are estimated to degrade due to these unsustainable practices.

Fortunately, this can be stopped. One of the best ways to help save forests is to practice sustainable forestry. This involves managing forests to help meet the resource demands of society without compromising the forest for future use, allowing the forest to maintain its health and protect biodiversity.

Today, consumers are more aware of environmental issues than ever before. In fact, when making purchases, over 66% of consumers in the United States consider how a company’s business decisions impact the environment. People want facility executives and business leaders to care about the environment just as much as they do. Offering products that help create a healthier environment can increase consumers’ brand loyalty.

Third-Party Certifications

Sorting sustainable forestry facts from fiction can be daunting. That’s why reputable third-party certifications are important. Using paper products certified by an accredited third party, like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®), is a way to ensure a business does its part in protecting forests. FSC is an international non-profit organization that offers environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial management of the world’s forests. They set 70 types of criteria that ensure forests, where raw materials are being extracted, are responsibly managed.

Certifications help minimize greenwashing as well. That’s when a company conveys misleading information surrounding the environmental impact of its products and operations. Companies that engage in greenwashing often leave details on the product’s life cycle vague and not verifiable.

Ensuring A Sustainable Product Life Cycle

The life cycle of a product starts from the extraction of its materials to the end of its use and disposal or other end-of-life scenarios. A company can perform a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to determine if its products’ life cycles are sustainable. An LCA analyzes mainly the environmental impacts caused by raw material acquisition, manufacturing, and distribution. This enables companies to produce products with different environmental attributes including global warming potential or greenhouse gas emissions.

Raw Materials

The acquisition of raw materials marks the initial stage of a product’s life cycle. This sets the cornerstone for its entire journey. When raw materials, such as pulp, are harvested sustainably, it helps ensure the preservation of forest and its biodiversity.

Business leaders can use the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certified LCA to assess the different environmental impacts of each raw material option. This comprehensive assessment allows for a thorough understanding of the distinct impacts each raw material has on the environment.

Manufacturing

LCA also focuses on the manufacturing process. It looks at energy and water consumption, chemical usage, and waste generation. Third-party auditing helps ensure the manufacturing facility is performing sustainably throughout paper production and hence guarantees the accuracy and transparency of the LCA.

Supply Chain

It’s important to consider the environmental impacts of transporting the final product as well. When comparing the distribution of virgin fiber versus bamboo fiber, there is a difference in weight and distance. If you compare the same mass of bamboo and tree species used to produce virgin tissue, you will need more truckloads for the bamboo. Increasing the number of truckloads means more fuel burned and higher CO2 emissions, resulting in a greater negative environmental impact.

Pros And Cons Of Recycled Materials

An advantage of using recycled materials is they create a better raw material for packaging paper and cardboard. Only 10% of the recycled fibers are lost during the manufacturing process for these materials; whereas 37.5% of recycled fibers are lost during the manufacturing process to make paper products due to the need for higher-quality end-product. Thus, it is better to use recycled materials in making lower-grade paper where waste is minimal.

Conversely, recycled materials yield products of lower quality. Virgin fiber can be used roughly seven times before it’s too degraded for recycling. When paper is recycled, the fibers shorten, making them weak and no longer usable for papermaking. The recycled fibers may also include contaminants, such as bisphenol A (BPA), which are harmful to the endocrine system and can easily migrate to the food chain. These chemicals were found to be present in products that were made of recycled fibers. The contaminants found in these products were three to six times faster to migrate to the food chain.

Help The Planet Thrive

As a business leader, you must understand where the paper products used at your facility come from and the best options to meet sustainability goals. By making these conscious and critical decisions, you help create a greener and more sustainable world. It’s important to be more conscious of the products you are buying. Verifying your organization’s paper products will meet consumer demand and help aid in planet preservation.

 

Abaas is Sofidel America’s Sustainability Specialist. He is a chemical engineer who focuses on sustainability operations and strategies in the industrial sector. During his Ph.D., Abaas worked with several companies in developing waste management plans, lifecycle assessments for their paper products as well as renewable energy transition plans. On the other hand, his core focus is on emerging tech applications in microgrids and published on Blockchain applications in smart grid systems as well as machine learning models for power outage prediction.

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