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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Forestry Day and Every Day:
Don’t Overlook the ‘Urban Forest’

While it is crucial to maintain sustainability managed forests, sourcing paper fiber from them is not the only option to consider. As we all move toward creating a more circular economy, it’s important to also consider sourcing materials from the “urban forest.”

Over the weekend, we observed the International Day of Forests. In 2012, the United Nations proclaimed March 21 as a day to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests — which cover one third of the Earth's land mass, performing vital functions around the world — and this year, we celebrate the important link between forests and biodiversity.

Forests are home to about 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, including 60,000 tree species. Unfortunately, forests and their wealth of biodiversity are under threat from deforestation (which is responsible for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions).

While it is crucial to have sustainability managed forests, sourcing fiber from them is not the only option to consider. As we all move toward creating a more circular economy, it’s important to also consider sourcing from the “urban forest.”

What is the ‘urban forest’?

The urban forest consists of sorted office paper (SOP) that is recovered from recycling bins and mined at facilities across North America, as well as cups, cartons and other materials where the fiber can be extracted to reuse and recycle. From there, state-of-the-art recycled fiber facilities transform this post-consumer waste into premium recycled fiber that feeds paper mills.

When looking into this sourcing option, it’s important to consider a company that owns its own supply chain — enabling full control over recycled fiber production, papermaking and converting processes. This is not only vital to ensuring an end product of superior quality; but even more importantly, progressing towards a closed-loop future. Beyond the important commitment to the environment through sustainable manufacturing processes, fully owned recycled fiber facilities can help to close the loop through their sustainable manufacturing processes, and work to recover and reuse discarded materials.

This approach aims to recover products that have served their purpose for end users, and turn them into new products that are sold on the market and recycled again. By focusing on product end of life, companies truly can be sustainable and maximize value chains, not only by feeding recycled materials into production, but also by recovering by-products and side streams of manufacturing for reuse.

How do recycled paper products limit impact on forests?

The paper you are using has an impact on the environment. It isn’t limited to carbon emissions; there’s also the matter of resources, biodiversity, water conservation and other ecological considerations. Want the full footprint? Consider looking for a partner who offers a systems-based, quantitative method for evaluating the environmental impact of a product, like a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Not all LCAs are the same — make sure to look for one that has taken a holistic approach. The one we used, for example, looked across both operations and products, assesses a product’s entire life — from raw material extraction and processing through to manufacturing, distribution and disposal. By focusing on the most significant environmental impacts of your processes, you can develop and evaluate sustainability programs and policies more accurately. By measuring the environmental impacts of raw materials sourcing, operations and transportation, you can make decisions that affect long-term results for businesses and customers.

Studies also show the environmental impact of manufacturing products from recycled materials is less than that of manufacturing from virgin materials. Using recycled materials also reduces the amount of trees harvested and limits emissions created when cutting down trees. 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 in manufacturing virgin paper contribute to climate change — and affect human health — at a level far greater than those created when manufacturing using recycled materials.

How FSC certification sets standards for responsible practices

Even when leveraging the ‘urban forest” as a source, environmentally responsible procurement practices are a key priority and essential to evaluating credibility. But how can you tell if a company is up to standard?

Look for a company endorsed by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC certifies products through a rigorous process as an indicator of supporting responsibly managed forests. The FSC stamp of approval is used to identify sustainable paper products, and promote the responsible practices that preserve and protect forests and the greater environment.

FSC certification provides brand credibility, as customers can be confident of the responsible origins of your products. When a business hoping to enter an environmentally and socially aware market, the chain of custody certification is an essential credential. Achieving certification is also a great way to demonstrate compliance with public and private sector procurement policies. Furthermore, every FSC label has a specific number, giving it the ability to be tracked right back to the source.

It’s incredibly important for companies in the recycled fiber industry to be committed to ecological leadership and work to meet the FSC’s environmental and social standards. Working closely with suppliers and partners to promote responsible environmental practices is the right step for other companies to earn their FSC certifications. For some more certifications and common terms related to forestry and sustainability, check out this blog for reference.

Towards a circular economy

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. Post-consumer recycled paper’s low environmental footprint, ability to be recovered and re-enter a circular economy play a large part in that; wood fibers can be recycled about five to seven times. Want to see for yourself? You can enter your data into an Eco Calculator to help quantify your footprint.

As we all look for ways to “close the loop” and create a more circular economy, don’t forget about the “urban forest” as a source! By integrating sustainably sourced paper into a supply chain, businesses can not only reduce their impact on forests and biodiversity, but also reduce their overall environmental footprint to help achieve their overall sustainability goals.