Why is Paper a Good Sustainable Alternative to Plastic?

August 1st, 2019

There is a common misconception that all plastics do in fact biodegrade, they just take a really long time to break down. Little did we know, plastics only decompose if certain organic additives, that attract microbial bacteria, are inserted into them. Unfortunately, the majority of plastics do not have any organic additives integrated in them, so they are far more difficult to break down. As a result, plastic waste has been accumulating in our landfills for years, and it doesn’t plan on leaving. In fact, only 9% of it actually gets recycled, which is why it accounts for 75% of landfill waste. Fortunately, there’s still hope in reducing the amount of waste we put in our landfills. We are the ones in control of what goes into our garbage bins, so we need to be more cautious of the products we choose to use daily.

Due to the negative impact that plastic has on the environment, many people are becoming more aware of its effects and want to switch to alternative products. There is a variety of sustainably sourced, renewable materials that can be used to make new products. For example, there’s aluminum, true linoleum, bamboo, paper, etc. Recently, paper has played a large role in supply chain sustainability; becoming the more dependable go-to in terms of being a sustainable resource. This is because paper can be made from both wood, a natural resource, and also from 100% post-consumer recycled fibers. Additionally, it is both compostable and recyclable; which reduces its chances of ending up in landfills. It can also biodegrade much faster than plastic; a plastic bag can take up to 20 years and plastic straws take up to 200 years. In comparison, paper waste only takes up to 2 to 6 weeks to decompose.

As the idea of a circular economy continues to emerge, there has been a noticeable shift towards sustainability in the industrial world. Some companies are now choosing to become more environmentally responsible by using renewable materials, such as paper, in the creation of their products. This positively impacts the environment by using less energy since manufacturers don’t derive raw materials from the Earth. It also reduces the amount of waste produced in many different industries; including the fashion, food, and paper industries to name a few. For instance, many restaurants and bars have replaced all plastic straws with paper straws. Several big corporations are now designing sustainability initiatives to minimize the amount of waste their products produce. Some have switched from plastic packaging to compostable or recyclable packaging, such as paper and cardboard. Additionally in society, new trends have been emerging; people have been using newspapers for wrapping paper, requesting paper bags instead of plastic bags at grocery stores, and choosing to use 100% recycled paper over virgin paper.

Choosing to use 100% post consumer recycled paper is another great example of how paper is a sustainable resource. Virgin fiber production takes up a lot more energy, water, and trees than producing paper from 100% post consumer recycled fiber. Using recycled paper to create new paper is also one way to drastically reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. As it stands, our landfills are made up of 25% paper waste. By recycling and returning it to its original form, we can prevent paper from ever reaching our garbage bins. 

When we’re done using certain products, we don’t always need to throw it into our trash cans. It doesn’t take long to pause for a second and think: Is this recyclable? Can I compost this? If people don’t sort and dispose of their trash properly, then most of our trash goes straight into landfills. That’s not the best place for certain types of waste. For instance, when organic materials, like paper, decompose in landfills, methane is produced and released into the atmosphere. It’s one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses because of its high heat-trapping potential, leading to global warming. This is why we must be cautious of the type of waste we throw out into our garbage bins, as well as the materials that make up the products that we use everyday. 

From cradle to grave, paper is certainly one of the most sustainable alternatives to many other non-biodegradable nor easily recyclable materials. There are several ways that paper can get reused or recycled, which is why we must do our part in simply becoming more aware of the different options we have. If you are able to avoid using single-use plastics such as straws, utensils, or bags, and instead you opt for the reusable or plant-based option, then you are already doing your part. Since we are in control of the products we dispose of, it is important to know what does or does not have to go in the trash bin. Many people don’t realize that the paper product they’re tossing away can biodegrade or be recycled. If we all do our part in being more environmentally aware of our waste disposal and product consumption, then we can surely pave our way for a sustainable future.

Contributor: Julia Silva