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Paper-based Packaging The Obvious Choice

Statistics on the environmental impact of plastic speak for themselves. It is estimated we are on track to lose 90% of marine bird life, while the weight of plastic in the ocean will exceed the weight of fish by 2050.

The OECD estimates annual global plastics waste generation at 258 million tonnes per annum. That’s enough plastic to build a 310m high wall along the entire length of SH1 – material destined to persist in landfills, or the wider environment, for decades if not centuries.

Forestry and the circular economy

The traditional ‘linear’ manufacturing approach of produce > use > dispose needs to change to a ‘circular’ model. Avoiding landfill and litter requires goods to be reused or recycled at the end of their useful life, whether into similar products or for energy.

Paper-based packaging is a demonstration of mainstream ‘circular ‘production:

  • It is sourced from plantations that regrow after harvest
  • Virgin paper is made from a combination of residues of other wood processing and wood that is unsuitable for sawmilling
  • Paper is the mainstay of recycling worldwide
  • If not recycled, at worst, paper naturally biodegrades

As an alternative to many single-use plastics, paper represents a solution to a problem that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.

The forestry and wood products sectors are established parts of NZ’s economy, with our primary sector exporting the majority of food products in paper packaging. The opportunity to build on that capability can only be enhanced by the growing global consensus around environmental goals. These include net-zero emissions of greenhouse gasses and zero waste to landfill by 2050.

Countries are reflecting their commitments to a circular economy in practical ways. China has banned the import of contaminated materials for recycling, obliging exporting nations (including NZ) to look inwards at their systems of consumption and recycling. Australia’s Council of Australian Governments has moved to ban the use of materials that can’t be recycled domestically, and to bolster the domestic use and recycling of paper and paper packaging.

New Zealand has long-standing and significant trading ties with both Australia and China. We therefore have a choice; to embrace the change to a circular economy, which our forestry sector is ready and primed for; or risk linear economic isolation into tomorrows ‘circular’ global economy. There has never been a better time to adopt paper-based packaging than in plastic-free July.

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