As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the theme – climate action – is more relevant and palpable than ever.
It’s our view at Sustana Fiber – and that of many consumers – that it’s up to every business to take steps to reduce their environmental footprint and create a more sustainable world. But many organizations are still working on with how to meaningfully do it. For us, we see adopting the circular economy, including paper packaging, as one of the best ways to fight climate change, and support our partners who want to do the same.
Sustainable packaging and climate change
For us, sustainability starts with sourcing. At Sustana Fiber, our main source of materials is recovered paper from recycling facilities across North America. That includes sorted office paper, cups and paper materials that have fiber we can extract and reuse to manufacture new recycled fiber for use in new paper packaging.
Ultimately, using recycled fiber for making new paper packaging is critical in the fight against climate change. Worldwide, deforestation accounts for roughly 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention the devastating consequences deforestation has on wildlife and human health).
Manufacturing the main alternative to paper packaging – plastic – also has negative climate change consequences. Along with wreaking havoc on natural ecosystems, including our oceans, and clogging urban infrastructure, plastics also require huge amounts of oil to produce.
Recycled paper fiber, though, provides a viable solution to the world’s packaging needs, without the same harmful consequences to the environment. On a single day, we process 2.2 million pounds of recycled paper materials – all of which didn’t have to come from forests.
Circular economy, sustainable future
Embracing the circular economy is what has ultimately allowed us to reduce our environmental impact and to help our customers reduce theirs along the way.
The idea is simple: we take recycled paper materials and use them to produce recycled fiber for new paper packaging products that are also recyclable, so the entire process can continue in a closed-loop system.
Another example is water usage. We collect, clean and reuse water throughout our production cycle. Every drop of water we use recirculates 17 times. Plus, we remove fiber byproducts in the water to repurpose it for farming and animal bedding products.
Then there’s taking recycled paper packaging and recreating it into new, food-safe products. Our Cup to Cup initiative with Starbucks, for example, recycled paper coffee cups into new cups, reducing the collective environmental footprint and impact on climate change.
Creating paper packaging products in this way creates a closed manufacturing loop that can be difficult to accomplish with other packaging products, including plastic (only 14 percent of which is ever collected for recycling, compared to 58 percent of paper globally).
Using lifecycle measurement to ensure impact
Paying attention to the entire lifecycle of our recycled fiber products – including how we make them – is critical to ensuring our strategy is successful.
Manufacturing can make an impact on the environment, so to measure and make sure we are using energy and water wisely, we conducted a Life Cycle Assessment to truly understand the environmental impact of our EnviroLife® recycled fiber.
What we learned is that our 100 percent recycled EnviroLife® fiber, which is compliant with FDA standards for food-grade paper packaging, uses significantly less water and energy – including 20 percent less fossil fuel – than counterparts that source non-recycled pulp from forests. And, this product’s climate change impact is a remarkable 26 percent lower than average non-recycled pulp.
What can companies do to help climate change?
Supporting the circular economy can ultimately be the key to meeting global climate change targets. While not every company is yet at the stage of creating their own closed-loop systems, they can seek out suppliers and partners who manufacture this way.
In other words, organizations considering how to reduce their own climate impact should consider how their supply chain partners, including materials suppliers and packaging manufacturers, are reducing theirs, too. Our Cup to Cup initiative is just one example of how effective these partnerships can be.
During Earth Day this year, consider how you can take steps to slow climate change and protect the environment. It’s up to all of us to work together.