According to a press release dated July 22, 2008, “It seems like every time something goes badly for the plastics industry that it lashes out at paper.”
“We’re getting a bit tired of this distraction campaign, frankly,” says John Mullinder, executive director of the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC). “Why don’t they focus on the real issues like litter behaviour; almost 80 per cent of plastics going to the dump; health concerns?”
In a footnote, the release points out that some 78 per cent of plastics packaging went to landfill in 2006, according to Stewardship Ontario, the industry funding organization for Ontario’s Blue Box system. The largest portion of that was plastic film which (at 57,000 tonnes) had the dubious honour of being the single-largest packaging material going to the dump. And that’s on a weight basis! (Stewardship Ontario, Table 1: Generation and Recovery, 2006).
Instead, Mullinder says, the plastics industry association leadership resorts to taking cheap shots at paper, using emotive and non-scientific terms such as “environmentally friendly” (a meaningless term, according to the Canadian Standards Association and the Canadian Competitions Bureau) and “tree-hungry” paper bags.
Perhaps we should talk about “oil-hungry” plastics, suggests Mullinder. “For the record, most of the paper bags used in Canada come from renewable plantation forests in the US that have been certified by internationally recognized third parties as sustainably managed. In Canada, paper bags are made from wood chips, shavings and sawdust left over from logging and sawmilling operations (the lumber being used to build homes, schools and hospitals). Again, almost 90 per cent of Canada’s managed forests are third-party certified as sustainably managed.”
The plastics industry is also fond of trotting out so-called scientific or “life cycle” studies, PPEC says, many of them commissioned by themselves, and others that have little relevance to Canada and Canadian circumstances. “There is no, repeat no, peer-reviewed life cycle analysis of paper and plastic grocery bags used in Canada that meets ISO standards. In fact, we would welcome a credible analysis that recognizes the environmental impact of manufacturing polymers from oil and natural gas and shipping plastic resin and/or bags all the way from coal-dependent China. That would be interesting.”
As for paper bags, all the kraft paper producing mills in Canada generate steam and electricity for their production from wood and process wastes (chips, shavings, sawdust). These are burned in the mill’s recovery and power boilers to make energy and to recover the pulp-making chemicals. “Usually this accounts for 60 to 80 per cent of the energy used in a Canadian kraft paper mill. The trend is to ramp this up so that the mills become what are called ‘energy islands’ where they are producing more electricity than they consume themselves and so can receive revenue by selling what they don’t need to the local energy grid. Under the Kyoto Protocol, wood and wood waste is regarded as energy-neutral and so does not contribute to greenhouse gas accumulation.”
Contact John Mullinder, PPEC, at 416-626-0350.