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Environmental Coalition Debunks "Carbon Neutral Paper"

Submitted by: Environmental Paper Network

Categories: Environment, Research, Reports & Publications

Posted: Mar 24, 2009 – 08:55 AM EST


Facts and Fiction of Carbon Neutral Paper Products Are Revealed in New Report

- March 24, 2009 - The Environmental Paper Network, a coalition of leading environmental organizations, is challenging the use of the term "carbon-neutral paper" in a new report prepared by environmental research group Climate for Ideas. The report finds that the scope of the impacts on forests and the burning of fuels in paper's production are often cloaked by the use of the term 'carbon neutral,' and offers recommendations to improve the measuring of the carbon footprint of paper products.

Download the report: http://www.environmentalpaper.org/carbonneutralpaper

"There is real concern that this term could be used as 'greenwashing',” said Joshua Martin of the Environmental Paper Network. "Companies making unfounded claims about their environmental sustainability risk discrediting not only themselves but the innovations of true leaders creating truly greener jobs in the industry."

The paper industry is one of the largest industrial consumers of fossil fuels. It uses massive amounts of biomass energy – energy from wood – that weakens carbon sequestration and other crucial ecosystem services. Every year the paper industry draws millions of tons of carbon from forests and burns that carbon for energy, resulting in large-scale emissions.

For example, in Indonesia, the drainage, burning and conversion of natural peat-land forests, much of it for pulp and paper plantations, emits 1.8 billion tons of CO2 annuallyi, almost the same as emissions from all coal power electricity generation in the US.ii 

In the report, EPN urges paper producers to strive for "low carbon" papers and products which target a lower climate impact through innovation in efficiency, use of recycled fiber, use of truly renewable energy sources, use of fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and a demonstrated lack of fiber from intact and other old-growth forests.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Serious life cycle analysis of paper should include impacts of forest management and degradation, fossil fuel and energy use throughout the production processes, and emissions due to disposal and waste.
  • Recent research shows that forest areas cleared for paper and wood products can emit more carbon than they absorb for up to twenty years due to soil disturbance and other factors.

  • Though "carbon neutral" is not a valid term, papers which strive to be truly "low carbon" papers can have emissions up to seventeen times lower than standard, virgin papers.

  • Use of recycled content is the most effective strategy for lowering the carbon footprint of a paper's life-cycle in part because, over 25 percent of all paper produced is still making it into landfills, making it the largest single producer of methane in the municipal solid waste system - a climate impact often not accounted for.

  • Research shows that intermediate-aged forests are the strongest absorbers of carbon of any forest age class - the forest age class most commonly logged for paper.
"Paper production can never be 'carbon neutral'" said Ginger Cassady of ForestEthics and senior campaigner for the Do Not Mail campaign to establish a registry for Americans to opt-out of junk mail. "Resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are inevitable in the production of paper, and we must support products which are truly 'low carbon', and not those which make suspiciously unrealistic claims of carbon neutrality."

To view the entire report including key findings and a complete set of recommendations for paper purchasers, visit: http://www.environmentalpaper.org/carbonneutralpaper

The EPN Steering Committee:
As You Sow, Conservatree, Green America, Dogwood Alliance, ForestEthics, Green Press Initiative, Markets Initiative, Natural Resources Council of Maine, National Wildlife Federation, and Rainforest Action Network.

iHooijer, A., Silvius, M., Wösten, H. and Page, S. 2006. PEAT-CO2, Assessment of CO2
emissions from drained peatlands in SE Asia. Delft Hydraulics report Q3943 (2006)


For more information, please contact:

Joshua Martin Environmental Paper Network
Phone: 828-242-4238
Jim Ford Climate for Ideas
Phone: +44 1223 561 640


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