Blog | 01/15/2019 11:25:00 | 3 min Read time

Don’t forget the forests!

Robert Taylor

Director, Sustainability, UPM Raflatac

As the world focuses intently on the problems of plastics (and rightly so), the role of forests has almost completely dropped off the agenda when discussing circular economy and sustainable packaging. Forest-based materials provide real alternative solutions for plastics and remain a major part of our packaging and labels. Furthermore, fibres from sustainably managed forests have big advantages over their oil-based plastic counterparts.

Share the positive story about forests

For the last 20 years, the lifecycle approach to the environmental impacts of packaging materials has focused on reducing negative impacts, particularly CO2 emissions, energy demand and water consumption. Unfortunately, lifecycle assessment is limited in scope and does not consider the positive story of sustainable forests that accrues while the wood grows in terms of mitigating climate change, the water cycle and promoting wildlife habitats. That is a huge part of the story that is missing.

In order to understand this better, we at UPM Raflatac partnered with Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), to develop a credible science-based methodology to calculate the ecosystem service benefit associated with the wood fibre used in our label products over the whole lifecycle. The resulting Forest Positive concept showed, for example, that the forest absorbs up to two times more carbon dioxide than the total CO2 emissions of the label paper during the whole product life cycle.

The other big advantage of fibre and paper products is certified forests and chain of custody. The fact you can track back to the logging site of origin allows you to assess the environmental and social impact all the way back through the whole supply chain. There is no credible system to do that with oil-based plastics.

On top of that it is only with fibre-based packaging you can have a positive impact. The suppliers of raw materials for bioplastics have woken up to this. This is why it should not be forgotten but kept high on the agenda. When a forest is sustainably managed, there is no better raw material source for packaging.

The next logical step is forest based biochemicals as raw materials for plastics.

Brave brand owners go for forest-based solutions

Many brand owners have now set very clear targets for 100% of its packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Fibre and paper-based packaging provide solutions that reduce plastic use and in addition they have a positive impact story to go with it. Unfortunately, the change is not happening yet and despite the effective marketing and bold announcements, there are still too many brands driven solely by production costs.

Forests and fibre-based alternatives to plastic will become more widespread over the next couple of years. There is a clear need for brand owners to be brave enough to take the next step with forest-based solutions and find ways to bring them to market. We need organizations to show leadership and take a positive approach with new innovations in order to share the positive story of forests.

Is your organization ready to make a positive impact with forest-based products?

Read more:

Sustainable RAFNXT+ labels
Promoting biodiversity requires collaboration



Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor

Director, Sustainability, UPM Raflatac | "The time to act is now."