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A global initiative called Two Sides, whose goal is to promote the sustainability of print and paper, is tackling misleading environmental claims made by large corporations all over the world. These companies are pushing serious misconceptions about “going paperless,” using the environment to sway them. Two Sides has been challenging their greenwashing. 

Greenwashing is defined as the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology, or company practice. Greenwashing is used to make companies appear more environmentally friendly than they really are. 

Research has proven that consumers feel strongly about their rights to receive paper options from their banks, governments, and other service providers—in fact, a survey revealed that 81% of people involved said they believe they have the right to choose how they receive their communications, and that it isn’t up to the companies. 

In addition to limiting consumer options, these claims that going paperless is more environmentally friendly simply aren’t true. Consumers involved in this particular research admitted to printing out “paperless” bills, documents, statements, etc. at home in order to have a hard copy. In addition to this, research has shown that 90% of the wood used by the European paper industry comes from European forests, which grew to the size of Switzerland in just 10 years. The European paper recycling rate is over 72%, and the pulp and paper industry is the biggest single user and producer of renewable energy in Europe. Not to mention that 9 million tons of e-waste are generated every year. 

Since 2010, Two Sides has challenged 441 companies in an effort to stop greenwashing, and a significant number of those companies have retracted misleading statements. 

Environmental Solutions

With awareness of plastic waste on the rise, governments around the world are banning various types of plastic, focusing on single-use packaging items. Plastic waste is filling our landfills and waterways, and breaking down too slowly in the environment. Analysts expect this movement to extend beyond plastic grocery bags and straws, eventually spreading to plastic bottles, disposable cups, food-service packaging, and ready-meal containers as well. 

With several major consumer brands already moving to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic in their packaging, the pulp and paper industry has an incredible opportunity to rise to the challenge of providing more environmentally friendly solutions to replace all the plastic we use on a daily basis. Before we capitalize on this opportunity, however, we have to address the foundational aspects of packaging production. This will enable us to replace them with environmentally friendly alternatives. The fact is, almost anything can be recycled—at a cost. 

Where we are now, special formulations are required for paper packaging to act as a barrier to things like water, hot or cold liquids, grease and oils, moisture and water vapor, etc. Individual barrier products can also form a system consisting of one to three different coatings, each serving a different purpose. The final system can then be designed depending on the end producer’s requirements. The good news is that awareness of fiber as a functional packaging alternative is continually gaining ground. 

The Next Gen Cup Challenge, a global consortium that includes some major food industry players, recently issued a challenge to “identify and commercialize existing and future solutions for the single-use, hot and cold fiber cup system.” Nearly 500 entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists from over 50 countries responded with ideas and potential solutions. 

Together, the pulp and paper industry can make a difference in reducing plastic waste and supporting the circular economy. 

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