8 Myths about paper

There are many myths about paper that make us often undecided about the environmental impact of our media choices. We are often subject to e-invoice migration campaigns with the argument that we will be “saving trees”, but is that really true?

In this article we present a set of facts that counteract some of the myths that have been heard about the paper and that we hope can help you make more informed decisions.

Myth 1: European forests are shrinking


European forests have been growing by over 1500 football pitches every day (Source: FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

Additional facts:

More than 90% of the pulpwood used in European Paper Industries is sourced from the European Union (Source: CEPI – Confederation of European Paper Industries – Sustainability Report, 2018)

More than 60% forests in EU-28 are certified, mostly under the FSC or PEFC or both (Source: EEA, European Forest Ecosystems – State and Trends, 2016)

Myth 2: Paper is a wasteful product


Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world

Additional facts:

The European paper recycling rate is 72,3%, which is approaching the practical theoretical maximum recycling rate of 78%* (Source: European Papel Recycling Council, Monitoring Report, 2017)

53% of the fibre for Europe’s paper industry is from paper for recycling (Source: CEPI Key Statistics, 2018)

* Some paper products cannot be recovered for recycling because they are kept for long periods of time (books) or archived (records); others are destroyed or contaminated when used (e.g. tissue and hygienic paper).

Myth 3: Paper is bad for the environment


Paper is one of the few truly sustainable products and is seen as an alternative to plastic in many scenarios

Additional facts:

71% of wood and 83% of pulp purchased by the European pulp and paper industry is FSC or PEFC certified (Source: Two Sides, 2017)

 91% of production capacity is certified or registered according to the internationally recognised environmental management standards ISO 14001 and EMAS (Source: CEPI Sustainability Report, 2018)

Myth 4: Only recycled paper should be used


Virgin fibres from sustainably managed forests are needed to maintain the paper cycle

Additional facts:

Fibres cannot be recycled indefinitely, there is the continuous need to feed the inflow of recovered fibre with paper products made of virgin pulp (Source: European Paper Recycling Council, 2017)

In  2018, paper for recycling made up 53% of fibre used, compared to 47% virgin fibre (Source: CEPI Key Statistics, 2018)

Myth 5: Paper production is a major cause of global greenhouse gas emissions


Most of the energy used is renewable and carbon intensity is surprisingly low

Additional facts:

The direct CO2 emissions of the European pulp and paper industry reduced by 25% between 2005 and 2017 (Source: CEPI Key Statistics, 2017)                   

The paper and printing sector is one of the lowest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for less than 1% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Eurostat, 2016)

Myth 6: Paper production consumes an excessive amount of water


Paper production is dependent on water, yet relatively little is consumed

Additional facts:

93% of the used water is returned to the environment in good quality, with the remainder either being evaporated, staying within the product, or being bound-up in solid waste (Source: CEPI, Water Profile 2015)

ICFPA member’s use of process water, measured in cubic metres per metric tone of production, was reduced by 7,2% from 2004/2005 baseline (Source: International Council of Forest & Paper Associations – ICFPA, 2017)

Myth 7: Electronic communication is better for the environment than paper-based communication


Electronic communication also has environmental impacts

Additional facts:

The ICT industry accounts for around 2,5-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and this is predicted to rise to 14% by 2040 ( Source: Belkir L & Elmeligi A, Journal of Cleaner Production: Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, 2018)

In 2016, 44.7 million tons of eletronic waste were generated, from which 435 thousand tons were mobile phones. (Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2018)

Myth 8: Digital is the preferred means of communication


Many consumers value paper-based communication

Additional facts:

 Consumers worldwide prefer to read printed version of books (72%), magazines (72%) and newspaper/news (55%) over digital options (Source: Survey Two Sides, 2017)

 Many consumers (68%) do not pay attention to online advertisements and 57% do their best to avoid them (Source: Survey Two Sides, 2017)

Final notes

Here we present only a brief summary of the data that has been collected on the subject in a joint effort by FEPE (Fédération Européenne des Producteurs d’Enveloppes) and Two Sides (a group of printing companies that aims to promote this sector sustainability and dispel myths about its environmental impact). For more information, please go to the websites of these two entities, or check the mentioned sources.