Sustainable Packaging Blog

Paper V Plastic, the big debate

    The Earth needs to be on a low-carbon diet, paper is the way.

     “We need to reduce our carbon footprint”, this sentence gets chucked around the media on a regular basis with no real explanation or solution to give. Why are we so worried about our carbon footprint and what effect does it really have on our planet? 

    Our carbon footprint is defined by the total greenhouse gas emissions from each individual, event, organisation or product. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, are mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufacturing goods, materials, wood and many other services. Usually your carbon footprint is calculated over a year and is the sum of all emissions of CO2. Unfortunately the reduction rate of our Carbon emissions has barely moved since 2017, in some cases its actually gone up! Some of the top 10 UK Supermarkets carbon emissions have increased by 5% and are putting more plastics on the shelves than ever. 

    The issue our planet faces right now is the build up of Carbon Dioxide waste floating around the atmosphere which is a major cause of Global Warming, this is why it’s important for us to monitor and reduce civilizations huge Carbon Footprint. It’s not possible for this to happen over night but we can certainly make a few sacrifices, switching lights off, using public transport/walking and switching from plastic products to FSC approved paper products. The more people are made aware and educated on our planets carbon crisis the quicker we can resolve it! 

    Plastic Bottles

    Plastic Carbon Footprint

    Plastic has secured a bad name for itself, whether through campaigns against micro-plastics or news of the great Pacific garbage patch. We can see a growth in public awareness about the outsized effect plastic has on our world’s oceans. Although this is a vital part of caring for our planet, it is far less obvious to see the effects it has on our air. Plastic production, use and disposal all emit prodigious amounts of greenhouse gasses which is why it has such a large impact on the global carbon footprint. 

    The obvious benefits of plastic packaging is that it can survive extreme environments and doesn’t easily degrade in hot and cold temperatures, thus preserving the integrity of the food or beverage inside it. It also protects products from moisture, oxygen, dust, light and odours. 

    Surprisingly, plastics have a carbon-intense life cycle. The majority of plastic resins come from petroleum, which requires extraction and distillation. The resins are then formed into products and transported to market. Every process in the Plastic life cycle emits an overwhelming amount of greenhouse gases, either directly or via the energy required to complete production. Even after we have finished with the plastics the carbon footprint continues through dumping, incineration, recycling and composting (for certain plastics) all release carbon dioxide. Sadly, researchers have predicted the global demand for plastics to grow by 22% over the next 3 years, resulting in a need to reduce carbon emissions by 18% to just break even. The current global Carbon Footprint for plastics is around 13/14% (380 million tonnes), this is due to rise to 17% by 2050. If we continue to use plastics and not alternatives it could result in the global temperature rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    What are plastic manufacturers doing about this? 

    The new types of biodegradable/compostable plastics that are being launched around the globe are the best attempt at reducing plastics carbon footprint, but so far the reduction is small, and at present, plastic is still taking up the majority of the global carbon footprint allowance. With the current predictions from researchers around the globe, plastic could single handedly put our planet into even more of a carbon crisis. 

    Paper V Plastic Paper Carbon Footprint 

    The industry for Paper has also been under some pressure by the media, “European forests are shrinking”, “Paper is a wasteful product”, “Paper is bad for the environment”, “Only recycled paper should be used”, “Paper production is a major cause of global greenhouse gas emissions”. We can safely say that these are all… myths. Why are these myths being peddled? The evidence points to plastic manufacturers/sellers being in a panic and trying to delay the inevitable. 

    Surprisingly, plastics have a carbon-intense life cycle. The majority of plastic resins come from petroleum, which requires extraction and distillation. The resins are then formed into products and transported to market. Every process in the Plastic life cycle emits an overwhelming amount of greenhouse gases, either directly or via the energy required to complete production. Even after we have finished with the plastics the carbon footprint continues through dumping, incineration, recycling and composting (for certain plastics) all release carbon dioxide. Sadly, researchers have predicted the global demand for plastics to grow by 22% over the next 3 years, resulting in a need to reduce carbon emissions by 18% to just break even. The current global Carbon Footprint for plastics is around 13/14% (380 million tonnes), this is due to rise to 17% by 2050. If we continue to use plastics and not alternatives it could result in the global temperature rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

    To clear these myths up, here are some facts to prove that Paper is the future. 

    • European forests have been growing by over 1500 football pitches every day 
    • Paper is in fact one of the most recycled products in the world 
    • Paper is one of the few truly sustainable products 
    • Virgin fibres from sustainably managed forests are needed to maintain the paper cycle. 
    • Most of the energy used in Paper manufacturing is renewable and carbon intensity is surprisingly low. 
    • Paper production is dependent on water, yet relatively little is consumed 

    Thanks to Forest Management from FSC & PEFC, Europe is using sustainable forestry to supply pulp for paper, in fact 71% of wood and 83% of pulp purchased by Europeans paper industry is FSC or PEFC approved. Paper is manufactured from wood which is a natural and renewable material, and as trees grow they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and paper being a wood product it also continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime. Overall, Paper has one of the lowest carbon footprints at 1% of the global allowance. 

    How Paper will revolutionise and save our planet 

    New innovations in the paper industry such as Hexcel Wrap, Protega Void-Fill and Paper tape are revolutionising the packaging industry, its only a matter of time before paper becomes just as usable as plastic products and we can all sit back, relax and breathe our low-carbon air! - find out more here: www.protega-global.com 

    Posted on Feb 17, 2020 12:06:03 PM by Dan Willock in recycling, in biodegradable plastic, in blog, in biodegradable, in global warming, in greener living, in carbon footprint, in Paper V Plastic

    Dan Willock

    Written by Dan Willock

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