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Paper recycling as a means of protecting world forests

Paper recycling as a means of protecting world forests
Renee Yardley
March 21, 2019

The importance of world forest health

Earlier this month, more than 4,700 government officials and business leaders from around the globe gathered for the fourth UN Environment Assembly, to align on decisions regarding its 2030 agenda. While the focus was on solutions for achieving sustainable consumption and production (UN SDG of Responsible consumption and production), a 2018 ScienceDirect study interestingly points to the importance of forests in contributing to the achievement of other SDGs, concluding that “forests and the services they provide are critical to [all other] SDGs and can advance multiple goals simultaneously”. 

The United Nations proclaimed March 21st the International Day of Forests, with 2019’s theme as Forests and Education. With deforestation being a notable contributor to global warming (responsible for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions) protecting forests is crucial to lessening the impacts of climate change and to maintaining “healthy, resilient communities and prosperous economies”. 

Mining the “urban forest” is key to Rolland’s success in limiting our impact on world forests, and central to our three-pillar 2019 Sustainability Strategy of protecting the planet, while supporting people and optimizing our products:

Rolland’s interest in forest preservation and education

Forests affect our everyday lives in more ways than we realize, and Rolland is conscious of its resource utilization for minimal impact on forests. In addition to reducing GHG emissions and fostering healthy communities, forests are integral in areas of our lives ranging from the cleanliness and availability of our water to the products we use for our education.

Furthermore, we appreciate the importance of educating audiences on forest preservation. While last year’s Top terms to know for international day of forests Rolland blog post introduced a lexicon of terms used to characterize sustainable paper products (including those related to Rolland’s sustainable forestry certifications) this year’s post for International Day of Forests aims to reinforce the role that recycled paper production plays in protecting the world’s forests. We have also sought to differentiate between types of recycled materials used in paper, speak to the sustainability of paper as a substitute for other materials, and to advocate for recycling as a means of protecting forests. 

How is post-consumer recycled paper good for forests? 

A ScienceDirect study on recycled paper’s impact on forests specifies that: “by substituting used paper for trees, recycling reduces the overall intensity of forest management needed to meet given demand for paper”.

Recycling paper reduces the amount of trees harvested, but also limits emissions created when cutting down trees. While the extent of GHG reduction depends on the volume of material being recycled and on fuels avoided in processing, the environmental impact of manufacturing products from recycled materials is less than that of manufacturing from virgin materials. 

Unlike the UN’s other SDGs which have a target of 2030, forest-related SDG indicators have a target to be achieved by 2020, further underscoring ScienceDirect’s point that “SDGs were designed to be interdependent […] and forests have a prominent role to play in their success”, and highlighting the importance of SDG number 15 of Life on land

According to a 2018 study by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, paper manufacturing from virgin materials requires more energy than manufacturing from recycled materials. Carbon emissions created to produce virgin paper contribute to climate change and affect human health at a level far greater than those created when manufacturing using recycled materials.

Rolland’s own Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) measured the impact of Rolland’s 100 percent post-consumer recycled papers against that of virgin paper manufactured in North America and confirmed a smaller environmental footprint. Rolland’s Enviro line of products contributed to 62 percent fewer GHG emissions compared to virgin products, 76 percent less fresh water eutrophication and had zero percent impact on endangered species and biodiversity. 

The lower environmental impact of Rolland’s recycled papers is relative to our use of recovered materials and renewable biogas energy to power operations. Furthermore, our recycled paper products contribute to reducing landfills by repurposing paper which may have otherwise been landfilled.

The importance of well-managed forests 

Despite paper’s recyclability, virgin fiber sourced from responsibly-managed forests is an essential input for sustainable paper manufacturing. For this reason, responsible forest management is essential to preserving forest quality. While Rolland does not directly own or manage forests, we ensure a sustainable supply chain with our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody certification, which considers all transformation steps in manufacturing, guaranteeing that our products can be tracked back to an FSC-certified source, and indicating that our products support responsible forest management. 

Global organizations across industries can play a role in reducing deforestation, to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and to fight climate change. Industrial agriculture, infrastructure expansion and fashion industries all contribute greatly to deforestation, and committing to promoting responsible forest management is a shared responsibility. Furthermore, research has found that organizational sustainability and deforestation-free practices drive financial performance across the value chain,  further reinforcing Rolland’s commitment to responsible materials sourcing, to recycling, and to working toward a closed-loop future where manufacturing systems require minimal resources for as little an impact on forests as possible.

A bright future for recycled paper products 

When managed and produced responsibly, paper materials are less harmful to forests and the environment than other materials used in our day to day lives. This is a result of paper production’s comparatively low lifecycle footprint, paper’s recyclability (wood fibers can be recycled five to seven times) and paper recoverability. 

Both the rate of recovery and use of recovered paper in manufacturing will increase year over year. Paper is already one of the most recycled materials on earth and the industry’s goal is to reach 70 percent recovery by 2020. Furthermore, recovered paper is currently the most used material in papermaking worldwide and this is expect to increase each year to attain 61.1 percent by 2030.

Rolland’s 2019 sustainability strategy revealed goals aligned with three of the UN SDGs, and our pledge to increase use of recycled fibers across all products by 20 percent by 2030 (in line with UN SDG 12 of Responsible Consumption and Production) will directly contribute toward reducing impact on forests.

Responsible consumption of paper continues to protect forests around the globe. According to Rolland’s Ecological footprint calculator, one ton of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper used instead of virgin paper saves 17 trees. 

For more information on how you can protect forests by using recycled paper products, refer to Rolland’s Eco Calculator. And to take your first steps in reducing your impact on the environment, order your samples now.