Research: 'Paper packaging is not a sustainable alternative to plastic'

According to the Dutch research agency Profundo, it appears that single-use paper food packaging is often not a sustainable alternative to plastic. The plastic layers combined with paper or other chemical coatings on paper are rarely recycled and the switch to paper drives global deforestation and industrial water use, the researchers said.
The Profundo report examines whether paper in single-use packaging offers a credible solution to Europe’s growing waste crisis. To investigate this, an NGO coalition of organizations typically focused on plastics teamed up with anti-deforestation organizations and commissioned a study from the independent research organization Profundo in the Netherlands.
The NGO coalition consists of the European Environmental Bureau, Zero Waste Europe, Fern, the Environmental Paper Network and the Rethink Plastic alliance.
Paper is the largest source of waste
The analysis found that paper-based packaging is the largest source of packaging waste in the EU. With 32.7 million tons of waste generated in 2020, paper is responsible for more waste than the next two largest waste streams, plastic and glass, combined. The report states that paper-based packaging is a major cause of deforestation in Europe and globally. About 90 percent of paper pulp comes from wood, and paper production accounts for about 35 percent of all trees from clear-cutting.
Paper from Brazil
According to the report, Brazil is Europe’s largest supplier of pulp and paper, supplying more to Europe than the region’s two largest producers – Sweden and Finland. Brazil has tripled its pulp production over the past twenty years and now covers an area of 7.2 million hectares – twice the area of Belgium. According to the report, Brazil’s eucalyptus and pine plantations are exacerbating water scarcity, forest fires and biodiversity loss. It also says that Finland’s forests in Europe have become a net emitter of carbon dioxide due to excessive logging and that 76 percent of Finland’s forest habitats are classified as threatened.
The EU is committed to reuse
The ongoing review of EU rules on packaging waste management is Europe’s biggest opportunity to end its reliance on single-use packaging. The report concludes that the EU and Member States should promote well-designed reuse systems to credibly prevent waste generation.
‘On average, three billion trees are cut down every year for global paper packaging, and that number is set to increase. The European Commission is proposing a ban on all single-use packaging in restaurants. This is a good starting point when it comes to reducing pressure on forests. To curb growing demand for pulp, the EU should also phase out single-use paper packaging for takeaway meals,” said Sergio Baffoni, campaign coordinator at the Environmental Paper Network.