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THE PAPER BAG THAT IS PART OF A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

Paper bags have amazing advantages in terms of environmental friendliness. They work to create a more sustainable world because ...

  • they are produced from a renewable raw material  
  • they are reusable
  • they are recyclable
  • they are biodegradable
  • their raw material is sourced from sustainably managed forests
  • they store carbon dioxide (CO2)

The environmental symbols created by The Paper Bag help companies demonstrate their environmental responsibility, promote the sustainability credentials of paper bags and share them with consumers.

Paper bags are produced from a renewable raw material

The raw material used in papermaking is long cellulose fibers, which are extracted from tree thinnings and from process waste from the sawn timber industry. These fibers are a bio-based, renewable, and ever-growing natural resource.

Paper bags are reusable

Thanks to the long, strong virgin cellulose fibers that can be used in paper carrier bags, they can have high mechanical strength. This is a prerequisite for having a durable paper bag that can be reused several times.

In a four-part video series by “The Paper Bag” the reusability of paper bags is put to the acid test. The same paper bag withstands four different uses with heavy loads of around eight kilos or more, as well as challenging shopping items with moisture content and sharp edges, and bumpy everyday transport situations. After four trips, it is even good for another use.

Reusing a bag rather than purchasing a new one has a positive impact on the environment. It conserves natural resources that would otherwise be utilized in the production of a new bag. Reusing also extends the carbon sequestration duration for the CO2 stored in the paper utilized to manufacture the bag.

Paper bags are recyclable

The long and strong fibers within the paper bags also make them a good source for recycling. Through local waste streams, paper-based packaging can be recycled more than 25 times1 according to a new study. Especially in Europe, the world leader in recycling paper with a recycling rate of 71.4% in 20212, end consumers can help to keep the recycling loop going by deposing their used bags in designated recycling bins for paper and cardboard. In doing so, they contribute to 1.8 tonnes of paper being recycled every second! The fibers can then be used to produce new fiber-based products and replace the raw material, through which natural resources can be saved.

Paper bags are biodegradable

Due to their natural characteristics, specially designed paper waste bags can be used for collection of biowaste and compost in many municipalities around Europe. They will then degrade together with the biowaste in composting and biogas installations producing valuable fertilizers and energy.  As a product made from natural resources, paper bags are biodegradable. Even if they mistakenly end up in nature, they do not harm the environment.

Paper bags are sourced from sustainably managed forests

The cellulose fibers that are used as raw material to produce paper bags in Europe are mostly sourced from sustainably managed European forests. They are extracted from tree thinning and from process waste from the sawn timber industry. Every year, more wood grows than is harvested in European forests. Between 1990 and 2020, the area of forests in Europe increased by 10%3, amounting to 227 million hectares. That means, more than a third of Europe is covered by forests. Sustainable forest management maintains biodiversity and ecosystems and provides a habitat for wildlife, recreational areas, and jobs. Forests have an enormous potential to mitigate climate change when they grow.

Paper bags store CO2

Trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and emit oxygen when they grow. The average annual sequestration of carbon in the European region reached 155 million tonnes between 2010 and 2020. The sequestration corresponds to around 10% of gross greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-28.4 Furthermore, as a wood product, paper continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime. This carbon sequestration time is extended when we reuse and afterward recycle the paper. Thus, paper bags help to mitigate climate change.

Continuous improvements

The kraft paper and paper carrier bag industry is working hard to further improve the ecological footprint of its products and related industries.

  • In the past years, the strength and quality of kraft paper and paper carrier bags were improved: this can increase the load capacity of high-quality paper carrier bags as well as their reusability.
  • The production of kraft paper is to a large extent energy self-sufficient thanks to its unique production process.
  • Modern paper production sites bring heat and electricity to neighboring communities: the steam generated during the pulp and paper production drives not only the turbines on-site but also feeds electricity into the grid. Additionally, the heated water can be used as district heat, benefiting neighboring communities.
  • The average water intake that is needed in pulp and paper production has been reduced by more than 40% since the 1990s. The water is used several times in the mill and is purified and controlled before it is returned back to the environment almost completely (90% in 2020)5 and in good quality.

Further information on how paper bags contribute to a more environmentally friendly world can be found in The Green Book.

  1. European Paper Recycling Council, Monitoring Report 2020, 2021
  2. European Paper Recycling Council, Monitoring Report 2021, 2022
  3. Eurostat Statistics Explained. Forest, forestry and logging, 2021
  4. Forest Europe, State of Europe’s Forests 2020, 2020
  5. CEPI, Key Statistics, 2021

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