More Deforestation (9 Billion Trees) – The Price of Plastic Paranoia
Heinz, Budweiser, Nestle, Coca Cola, Iceland, Asda, etc, etc. Every time I read of some major brand or supermarket replacing ‘Single Use Plastic’ with paper, board, or compostable alternatives, I think of my 2 year old granddaughter Jess (her photo) and the devastation these companies are causing to our planet, in the name of ‘Environmental Progress’.
All of these alternative packaging materials to plastics require millions more trees to be cut down, every minute, of every hour, of every day, every year. The deforestation of our planet is relentless. According to Google, we cut down 15 Billion trees per year, 60% of which goes to make paper and board. We replant 5 Billion trees per year which means at the current rate of deforestation, by the time Jess is 30, we will have lost over 25 Billion trees, a quarter of all those currently on Earth. Every year, more and more companies are driven to consider replacing plastic packaging due to distorted media presentations, convincing their customers they should not buy products wrapped in plastic. Of course, there are many legitimate uses of paper/board for packaging. But our aim should be to decrease packaging, not its increase.
It is a fact that every tree which is cut down to replace plastic releases its CO2 store into the atmosphere and from then on, ceases its life as a ‘CO2 Sponge’. In addition, the loss of this woodland habitat leads to the demise of millions of insects and animals which disappear along with the trees. According to World Atlas, the manufacture of board / paper contributes 8% of all USA air pollution, which gives some indication of just how polluting the manufacture of paper / board actually is. Unfortunately, the manufacture of compostable and bio films has similar negative environmental effects. One example recently noted by Simon Reeves on his BBC programme where he visited Madagascar, found that 80% of the island has been deforested to grow Sisal. This plant has many uses but according to Reeves, there is an increasing growth in land use due to demand coming from the EU for ‘Environmental Packaging’ (compostables).
It is difficult to believe that the major companies noted do not know that every tonne of paper/ board produced destroys between 15 to 24 trees, dependent upon species, or that it takes 54,000 litres of water to produce just one tonne of paper / board. They also know that all this waste water is contaminated during the production process. They undoubtedly know about all the toxic chemical residues which are produced as part of the paper making process. The question must be, do they care? The paper / board / compostable companies will claim that the major benefits of their products are that they are recyclable or compostable and come from sustainable forest. All these claims are grossly misleading as the following will testify.
Recyclable / Compostable
If we consider the claims of compostable films as an environmental alternative to plastic packaging, we must consider that there are over 3 million UK homes without gardens. These are flats, maisonettes, etc, where composting is simply impractical. In addition, no UK Local Authority collects compostables. Thus, the % age of packaging waste material actually composted is probably miniscule.
Meanwhile, paper / board can only be recycled a maximum of 5-7 times, after which it must be replaced. Around 24% of the 4.7 million tonnes of paper / board packaging we use in the UK is not recycled, whilst circa 10-15% of material is ‘lost’ in the recycling process. As a consequence, around 1.5 million tonnes a year of paper and board packaging is not recycled. This compares with circa 850,000 tonnes of plastic packaging which is not recycled. Thus, we can conclude more paper / board packaging waste goes to landfill and incineration than plastic.
Whilst managed forestry is obviously beneficial in replacing some of the ‘lost’ paper / board; as more of these major international brands and UK supermarkets replace plastic packaging and demand for alternatives increase, managed forestry falls further ‘behind the curve’, as it takes 10-15 years to replace each tree felled. Again, according to Google, paper / board usage grew 2½ % per year every year between 2015 and 2020. So, whilst the paper industry claims, ‘trees are a crop like any other’, it is simply untrue. Year after year more land, more water, more chemicals are used and more trees, are ‘lost’ reducing the absorption of CO2. All this occurs due to pressure on companies to increase the replacement of plastic packaging with materials based on wood pulp and organic matter.
All the foregoing ignores the extra waste generated by replacing plastic packaging with alternatives. Whilst the international brands don’t give figures, Asda claims a reduction of 6,000 tonnes and Iceland 1,500 tonnes of plastic packaging reduction. Unless these companies have dispensed with packaging altogether, they have undoubtedly created an extra 20 / 30,000 tonnes of extra domestic waste. This equates to an extra 3,500 vehicle movements every year. That’s just from two companies. Meanwhile, they continue to claim that plastic packaging replacement is somehow good for the environment.
Here at National Flexible, like Asda and Iceland, we welcome the opportunity to supply our customers with whatever ‘environmental’ or other film they wish to buy. What we will not do is to claim that we are doing so to improve the environment. We much prefer packaging reduction and recyclable plastics as more sustainable solutions to the need to reduce plastic consumption.
As ever, I would welcome your views on any of the items raised and welcome you to join me on LinkedIn for more regular updates.