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Of all the kinds of packaging materials, paper remains one of – if not the – most popular options used worldwide.  

In this post, we’ll explore some of the benefits of paper packaging that have led to its continued popularity, as well as some of its drawbacks, so you can walk away with a well-rounded understanding of this kind of packaging material. 

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Paper has higher biodegradation rates when compared to other kinds of packaging – especially plastic. This means that paper packaging breaks down in natural environments quickly when exposed to bacteria, yeast, and other organisms.  

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Source: EPA

Paper is one of the most recyclable materials in the world. In fact, paper and paperboard made up nearly 67% of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) recycled in the U.S. in 2018 – the highest of any other kind of material.  

Plus, according to the American Forest & Paper Association, the U.S. paper recycling rate has met or exceeded 63% since 2009.  

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Paper is primarily composed of forestry materials found in nature (i.e., fiber). This is beneficial because when the material decomposes, it reverts back to natural materials from our environment. Since paper is based on wood, it’s one of the world’s few truly sustainable products.  

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At 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the pulp, paper and print value chain is one of the lowest industrial emitters in the world.  

And when managed sustainably, younger forests can actually help reduce carbon dioxide emissions through carbon sequestration, defined as “the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Since carbon dioxide is the most frequently produced kind of greenhouse gas, this can be significant. Here’s how.  

How Carbon Sequestration Works With Trees 

Though older forests store more carbon than younger ones, younger forests sequester more carbon dioxide than older forests.

As trees get older, their ability to sequester carbon lowers. That’s because of their growth rate. “Biological growth in trees is very rapid at young ages, and this growth rate declines as the trees age,” Steve Prisley, a principal research scientist with NCASI, explains. Since younger trees (and forests) grow faster than their older counterparts, they can remove more carbon dioxide than older forests that have the same area coverage.

Consequently, sourcing fiber from forests for paper products can be better for the environment when managed in a sustainable way. And what is a sustainably managed forest?

“The bottom line [of a sustainably managed forest] is that we’re not removing more trees than can be regrown, or we’re not harvesting faster than the forest is growing. The goal is to balance the growth and harvest with the removals from the forest and ensure our harvesting rate is sustainable relative to growth.”

-  Steve Prisley, Principal Research Scientist, NCASI

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Paper isn’t just more recyclable than other materials – it’s also easier to reuse with little environmental impact. That’s because it can re-pulped without the use of chemicals. The life cycle of paper is long, too – recycled paper fibers can be reused up to 5 to 7 times to make new products.  

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Paper is advantageous for brand visibility because you can easily print your logo or other designs right on the material.  

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You can easily combine paper with other materials to achieve unique aesthetics, which can influence purchasing decisions. Per a national study conducted by the Paper and Packaging Board and IPSOS, 7 in 10 consumers – 72% – reported that packaging design can influence whether or not they purchase a product, and 83% of consumers said that paper and cardboard design can be innovative. In addition, 63% of consumers said that paper and cardboard packaging makes a product seem premium or high quality. 

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Source: FSC

According to a recent study conducted by GlobeScan for the Forest Research Council (FSC) of 12,000 participants from 15 countries, climate change was the #2 most concerning global issue.

Not surprisingly, stainability is on consumers’ minds as they make purchasing decisions. In another study of conducted by McKinsey, 55% of U.S. consumers surveyed said they were either extremely or very concerned about how product packaging impacts the environment. Since paper is bio-based, biodegradable, reusable, and recyclable, it’s a popular option for packaging materials.  

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Though paper offers many pros, it still has some cons.  

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Paper offers less of a barrier to oxygen, light, and microbes than other packaging materials such as plastic. As a result, the items it stores – food products especially – have shorter shelf lives when stored in mainly paper packaging. (For paper to have better barrier properties, plastic usually needs to be added in plastic layers of laminates.)  

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Even though paper is very recyclable and reusable, it still fills up landfills. In 2018, paper and paperboard (that is, cardboard) materials made up the largest component of U.S. MSW at 11.8%, or 17.2 million tons.  

While paper does have a high biodegradation rate, this happens in aerobic environments, which are environments where paper materials are broken down by the action of oxygen-breathing microorganisms.  Conversely, paper has a slow anaerobic (oxygen-absent) biodegradation rate in environments without oxygen, like landfills, because it’s resistant to degeneration when compacted.  

Within less than a year of being brought to a landfill, anaerobic conditions get created, no matter what type of MSW has been deposited – including paper.  Bacteria then decompose MSW in landfills and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 

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Paper takes up more space than the same weight of plastic in landfills because it’s less dense than other types of waste. For example, 1 lb. of paper will occupy more space in a landfill than 1 lb. of food waste, glass, or even some plastics.

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As we’ve reviewed, paper packaging offers more advantages than disadvantages and is an environmentally friendly and adaptable solution for product packaging. Nonetheless, using paper as your packaging material does depend on its intended usage or application.   

So, what packaging material can you use that has the same benefits as regular paper, but overcomes some of its pitfalls?  

Consider SmartSolve. 

Unlike regular paper packaging materials, SmartSolve’s materials are: 

  • Water soluble. Water soluble paper dissolves quickly when exposed to water back to the natural components it’s made up of.  

  • Readily biodegradable. Several of our materials have passed the international OECD 301B testing method and thus demonstrate that they biodegrade “rapidly and completely” in aquatic environments.   

  • Nontoxic to fish. Most of our materials have passed U.S. EPA Ecological Risk Assessment guidelines and show that they’re not toxic in marine environments.  

  • Flushable. Our 3x15 heat seal printed pouches, for example, have passed several flushability tests including FG501 (Toilet Bowl and Drain-line Clearance Test), FG502 (Slosh Box Disintegration Test, and FG503 (Household Pump Test). This basically means that they’re safe to flush down the drain.  

  • Made of FSC-compliant fiber.  SmartSolve Industries meets the FSC Forest Management and Chain of Custody Certification requirements for the production and distribution of labels and paper using the transfer system. You can rest assured that our products come from sustainably managed forests that preserve biological diversity, benefit the lives of local people, and sustain economic viability.   

  • Compostable in 40 days. Our water soluble board stock qualifies as compostable in 40 days because it passed the ASTM D6868-11 testing method. The material contains no hidden or unknown substances that recycled materials – including paper – sometimes carry. 

To learn more about SmartSolve’s materials and how you can use them for your specific application, request samples today.

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