Top three paper misconceptions debunked

Top three paper misconceptions debunked

Earlier this month, a member of the Beyond the Box team was invited to take part in a radio interview to tackle a controversial topic: is paper really better for the Earth than plastic? The question was raised following recent media speculation around the amount of wood that’s required for the production of paper, while also calling into question its recyclability rates.

Never ones to shy away from an opportunity to enlighten consumers on the merits of carboard and the wider paper industry, we decided to address some of the most common misconceptions around paper.


  • Paper does have exceptional recycling rates

There’s no getting around the fact that, when it comes to recycling, paper continues to be the material to beat.

In 2021, 71.4% of all paper and board consumed in Europe was recycled. Both consumption of new paper and board and collection of Paper for Recycling (PfR) have increased since 2020, with the consumption of paper and board having strongly recovered after the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions.

Additionally, according to not-for-profit organisation Two Sides, paper remains the most recycled packaging material in Europe (83%), especially when compared to metal (80%), glass (75%) and plastic (42%). 

Simply put, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate the paper industry’s achievements in product circularity and high recycling rates.


  • The European paper industry is not responsible for deforestation

One of the most common misconceptions is this image of the paper industry being responsible for razing entire forests to the ground, when nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is the European paper industry not responsible for deforestation, but European paper typically comes from sustainably managed forests, monitored by recognised schemes such as FSC and PEFC.

Sustainable sourcing means that saplings are planted to replace the trees that are harvested, which means that forests continue to grow despite being used as a source for producing paper. Encouragingly, European forests grew by an area bigger than Switzerland between 2005 and 2020, roughly the equivalent to over 1,500 football pitches every day.


  • Paper does not consume large amounts of water

Another misconception is that papermaking consumes vast quantities of water. Once again, the facts tell a different story.

While papermaking does indeed require large amounts of water, very little of it is actually consumed in the production process. Instead, papermaking only ‘borrows’ water, returning the vast majority (86%) to the same water courses, at least as clean as when it was extracted.


A few final thoughts

There is enough evidence to confirm that paper truly is a renewable source and is sourced sustainably, it does not use large quantities of water and is eminently recyclable at end of life. When all of this is taken into account, there are few materials that can match it for its superb environmental credentials.

It is unfortunate that these arguments need to be made off the back of an ongoing debate around ‘paper vs plastic’, which often gets hastily depicted as an epic struggle between good and evil. And while it may be tempting to pursue this narrative for the public’s entertainment, the real issue is not so black and white.

The truth is, no material provides a one-size-fits-all solution. However, while other materials come from fossil fuels, paper undeniably has stronger environmental credentials, and the paper industry strives to be responsible in its use of resources. Ultimately, it is down to the consumer to make the final choice of whether to choose one material over another.