Why Paper is a More Sustainable Packaging Solution than Plastic

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Sustainable packaging has become increasingly important as consumers become more aware of its impact on the environment. According to a report done by GlobalWebIndex, 42% of U.S. and UK consumers say products that use sustainable materials are important when it comes to their daily purchases. Environmentally aware consumers are more willing to support companies that share the same concern as them.

The two most common types of packaging are made up of paper or plastic. These two combined for 56.4 (69%) of the 82.2 million tons of containers and packaging produced in 2018. Here is a comparison of both packaging life cycles from their beginning to their end use.


First, we’ll look at how each material is made. Paper-based packaging is made from natural renewable resources such as trees. More than 50% of paper packaging is made from cutting down trees, but most of the logging in done in a controlled, renewable process.
Plastic is sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels which can generally take the form of crude oil and sometimes natural gas. Last year plastic manufacturing consumed close to 12% of the global oil supply and is expected to rise almost 50% by the year 2050.


The carbon emissions that are created during the manufacturing process also needs to be considered when discussing sustainability. Research indicates that plastic manufacturing accounts for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to paper manufacturing which accounts for 1%.

To fully understand how much greenhouse gas is emitted from plastic manufacturing alone, imagine if all the plastic manufacturing was done in one country. That country would be the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Many paper manufacturers use renewable energy during the manufacturing process, which attributes to a lower percentage of greenhouse gas being emitted.


In 2018, approximately 46 million tons of paper and paperboard were recycled and had a recycling rate of 68.2%, which is the highest rate of packaging material according to the EPA. Corrugated boxes had a 96.5% recycling rate that same year as well. This is compared to only an 8.7% recyclability rate for plastic containers.

Learn more about how our Great Northern Packaging – Oshkosh facility can provide you with a sustainable packaging solution by reading about our SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) Sourcing Label Certification.

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