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The Importance of Using Recyclable Paper in Packaging

recyclable packaging

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is just one of the many agencies and industries promoting the increased value of recycling — especially when it comes to recyclable paper packaging. Even skeptics understand the importance of this movement.

According to researchers keeping tabs on statistics, recycling just one ton of paper can have dramatic results, saving 7,000 gallons of water, eliminating 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton, and saving enough energy to power the average U.S. home for six months!

History of the paper packaging industry

According to scholars at Ohio State University, people in ancient China used gourds, shells, and leaves to transport foodstuffs before the first containers of woven grass, logs and animal organs were employed to do the job. Ultimately, woven grasses and reeds replaced these carriers – as did pottery — but it wasn’t until paper, also a Chinese invention, became the prototype of what we now call “flexible packaging.”

For around 1500 years, sheets of treated mulberry bark served as food wrappings before they were recycled as a type of compost. The idea of paper as food wrapper spread throughout the Middle East followed by Europe. In 1690, Germantown, Pennsylvania was reported to be the first paper packaging hub established in the colonies.

Francis Wolle’s Bristol company introduced wood pulp bags in 1867. As with most brilliant ideas, it wasn’t long before bag-making machines, glued sacks, gusset designs and in-line printed paper bags were the norm, and while the first cardboard boxes weren’t introduced to the west until around 200 years after the Chinese had invented them, by the 1900s, cartons of faced corrugated paperboard had become commonplace.

But recycling, say Smithsonian magazine editors, did not emerge until the 1970s when the concept of sustainability was introduced to a public that had thus far not been asked to think of the downsides of paper consumption. This movement has proven to be a powerful force, artfully represented in 1971 by college student Gary Anderson. He won a design competition that introduced the now-familiar, iconic 3-arrow triangle logo that is still stamped on recycled paper goods today.

Industry’s role in the recyclable paper packaging universe

Will 2022 be the year recyclable paper packaging comes into its own? The answer is yes if trend-trackers are on the money. According to Meg Wilcox, a GreenBiz contributor, there are five trends you’ll want to follow to decide for yourself whether this topic is being ignored or taken seriously.

Her insights offer a glimpse into the state of the movement toward all-recyclable packaging from the perspective of the industry that is expected to be the most impacted by sweeping changes: Paper packaging enterprises.

  1. United States paper product producers are projected to assume more responsibility in the years ahead, an inevitability that is following in the footsteps of European and Canadian reforms. Oregon and Maine are already addressing recyclable paper packaging reforms by updating their state laws.

    Why are these laws needed? Because some paper manufacturers are misrepresenting packaging claims, insisting that their products are recyclable and biodegradable when in fact they’re not. The states of Connecticut, California, New York, Vermont, and other states are already beginning to introduce their own recycling laws, each of which contributes to the progress of the recycling movement.

  2.  On the topic of “truth in labeling,” there is no current standard for defining terms that the public equates with sustainable packaging and no enforcement exists to address this topic either. Fortunately, the packaging industry isn’t alone in its quest for being more articulate and truthful when contributing to recycling dialog.

    In New Jersey, the Northeast Waste Management Officials Association is but one organization among many that is lobbying for recycled-content requirements for packaging and if you keep tabs on your state’s efforts, you may be surprised to discover similar efforts closer to home.

  3. Getting toxins out of packaging is a third trend worth following in your quest to fully understand issues at the forefront of recyclable paper packaging trends. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a white paper authored by nine scientists, each of whom found the increase in fragrances, flame retardants, solvents, biocides, and dyes in products made from recycled materials to be alarming. Keep tabs on this topic to stay in the loop.            
  4. Taking a more holistic approach to recyclable paper packaging is another way the industry is moving in the right direction. Studies conducted of late compare recyclable v. non-recycled packaging that concluded that only in around 50% of cases did the recyclable package have fewer lifecycle impacts than non-recyclable types.

    The trajectory is expected to continue as more consumers agree that recycled packaging is far superior for myriad reasons. To further this effort, collaboration between packaging manufacturers, food service companies and NGOs is critical, as was the recent introduction of a “packaging scorecard” that reports on efforts by companies to assume more responsibility related to adopting a holistic approach (https://upscorecard.org/).

  5. Accountability remains a packaging industry hot button, but is the industry ready to prioritize environmentally-respectful methods over bottom line profits? For doubters, surprises may lay ahead as companies realize the benefits of taking the high road. Leading the accountability movement are companies like Tesco, a manufacturer with the courage to stop producing certain types of packaging that benefitted the company’s bottom line over the health of the planet.

Whether other companies will follow this and other admirable examples can’t be predicted, but as more paper product manufacturers realize that the public relations value of using recyclable paper packaging outweighs profit margins, the future looks promising.

The collaboration between consumers and industry

According to The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the industry is doing its part to promote recyclable paper packaging, and as the group’s most recent surveys indicate, “Consumer engagement would not be as high as it is without widely accessible community recycling programs.”

Assessing curbside and drop-off programs run by government and private entities, the AF&PA concluded that more than 60% of all consumers had access to recycling in 2014. Since then, that number has increased to between 79% and 81%.

Did COVID impact the nationwide recycling effort? Not much. Among the tough decisions people made during the pandemic about which community services they wanted to retain, recycling was a priority. Going forward, AF&PA representatives say that the paper industry has “planned or announced approximately $5 billion in manufacturing and infrastructure investments by 2023.”

This increase is projected to “increase the amount of recovered paper used by U.S. paper and paperboard mills by approximately 8 million tons—a 25 percent increase over 2020 levels,” say industry experts, and these numbers don’t take into account the creative research and development plans that are currently in the industry pipeline.

Surprising paper recycling facts you probably didn’t know!

According to scholars at the University of Indiana whose focus on recycling has become part of the school’s curricula, there are several facts about paper recycling you may wish to learn so you’re the smartest voice in the room when this topic is discussed:

•Eliminate one Sunday New York Times publication and 75,000 trees can be left standing.
•A single 15-year-old tree has the potential to produce 700 grocery bags.
•Every year, 6 million bags are given to customers by U.S. supermarket checkers.
•The total amount of wood and paper thrown out each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for two decades.
•Every American uses or comes into contact with around 680 pounds of paper annually.
•13,000 pieces of junk mail and packaging are thrown away by every household in the nation each year.
•More than 90,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space was recovered in 1993 thanks to recycling!


Environment protection is the responsibility of every one. So while we develop with the business, we should take environment into consideration as possible as we can. Hope this article helps you understand the the importance of using recyclable paper in packaging. And if you want to know more about this or want to start a packaging with recyclable paper, you can just feel free to get in touch with us and we would glad to help! 

Emiee Zhang

Emiee Zhang

Emiee, the sales manager of Beneme Company, has been involved in printing and packaging field and foreign trade business for 9 years now. She is fluent in English communication, and has talked with a lot of customers and helped them to get their items customized. Many customers start from zero to a huge sale of some hot printing items with her cooperation.


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