A recent article in The New York Times, (“Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.” 7/21/21) explored Maine’s dramatic new recycling law. But it also missed the point on paper recycling. In a letter to the editor, AF&PA responded to set the record straight: Telling readers the U.S. “recycling rate for plastics and paper products” is 32 percent is like telling them the average elevation of Denver and Death Valley is about half a mile. It may be technically true, but it clouds over more than it reveals. Whatever is true of plastic, the fact is that for all paper, the recycling rate was 66 percent in 2020. The recycling rate for paper-based packaging specifically—like cardboard boxes and corrugated containers—was a whopping 89 percent. In fact, more paper is recycled by weight from municipal waste streams than plastic, glass, steel and aluminum combined. In the context of a story about proposals in several jurisdictions that would turn our current recycling system on its head, these distinctions matter a great deal. Extended producer responsibility programs would disrupt the most effective recycling streams in the interest of improving the least effective, while imposing large new costs on producers who are already being responsible by investing capital to innovate and use a highly renewable and recyclable material—paper.
As banks, utilities, telecom companies and government agencies face mounting economic uncertainties, many of these services providers are looking to cut costs by encouraging their customers to switch from paper to digital communications. But all too often, these cost-cutting appeals are cloaked in unsubstantiated and misleading environmental marketing claims that suggest going paperless is “green,” “saves trees” or “is better for the environment.”
“These greenwashing claims not only fail to comply with established environmental marketing standards, but they also damage consumer perceptions of paper’s environmental sustainability,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “And that’s a threat to the economic security of millions of people in the United States and Canada whose livelihoods depend on the paper, print and mailing sector.”
North America’s leading corporations and other service providers influence millions of consumers every day with their anti-paper greenwashing claims, leading many to believe that the use of paper is destroying forests and is bad for the environment. For example, a 2021 Two Sides survey of U.S. consumers showed that 60% believe that U.S. forests are shrinking, when in fact, U.S. net forest area increased by 18 million acres over the past 30 years – the equivalent of 1,200 NFL football fields every day – according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment. The UN FAO reports that Canada’s net forest area remained stable at around 857 million acres during the same period.
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