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Sustainable Forest Management is Essential to the Canadian Paper-Based Packaging Industry

Sustainable forest management is a fundamental pillar for PPEC and its members and is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry. And what better time to talk about that then during National Forest Week, which is taking place this week.

While most paper packaging made in Canada is made with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. However, less than half of one per cent of Canadian commercial forests are harvested for paper-based packaging, and every hectare that is harvested must be successfully regenerated. According to Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) most recent State of Canada’s Forests annual report, at least 427 million seedlings were planted across Canada in 2018 – that’s 48,744 seedlings planted every hour.

In addition, all PPEC-member mills have independent, third-party certification that verifies that their paper fibre sources – which include recycled fibres, wood chips, and sawmill residues – are responsibly sourced. Each mill member has independent chain-of-custody certification for their operations in Canada by one of the three federally-recognised forest certification systems: the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); the CSA and SFI systems are endorsed by the international umbrella organization called the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC).

These third-party forest management certification organizations assess forestry operations against standards for sustainable forest management, which includes ensuring the conservation of biodiversity (the wide array of ecosystems, ecological processes, and different species of plants and animals), and complements Canada’s rigorous forest management laws and regulations.

When you add it up, the Canadian paper-based packaging industry hardly uses any freshly cut trees to make paper packaging, and the little that is harvested, 0.2% in 2018 according to NRCan, is successfully regenerated.

So how are paper-based packaging products made in Canada? Primarily from recycled content! According to PPEC’s most recent Recycled Content Survey, the average recycled content of the three major paper packaging grades made by Canadian mills – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – is collectively 81.7%. The remaining 18% is made up of wood chips, shavings, or sawmill residue left over from lumber operations, and trees.

Recycled content is a critical component to the paper-based packaging industry’s circular economy. As Canadians actively recycle their paper-based packaging, that recycled content makes its way back to the mill, and is remade into new paper packaging products again and again.

And yet while we know that the paper-based packaging made by PPEC members is made primarily from recycled paper fibres, there is some confusion about our industry and deforestation (when forest land is permanently cleared to make way for a new, non-forest land use).

The most recent data available from NRCan reports that 34,257 hectares of Canada’s total forest area (346,964,664) was permanently converted to other land uses, representing a less than 0.01% deforestation rate.

Deforestation Facts

The forestry sector’s (which includes pulp and paper manufacturing and the wood product manufacturing subsectors) share of deforestation represents 1,494 hectares, or approximately 0.0004% of total deforestation in Canada.

And given that our industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, the little that is harvested – that 0.2% – must be successfully regenerated, making packaging’s share of deforestation zero.

The main causes of deforestation are by the Mining, oil and gas, Agriculture, and Built-up (industrial, institutional or commercial developments, municipal urban development, recreation, and transportation) sectors, who together represent 94% of Canada’s deforestation rate.

But we know it’s important to monitor deforestation, as forest loss affects biodiversity, soil, air and water quality, and wildlife habitat. And forests are a vital part of the carbon cycle, storing and releasing carbon during the process growth, decay, disturbance and renewal: “Over the past four decades, forests have moderated climate change by absorbing about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the changing of land uses,” according to NRCan.

Sustainable forest management practices can help sequester carbon (the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide) with forests acting as either carbon sources or carbon sinks: a forest is considered to be a carbon source if it releases more carbon than it absorbs, which can result from old age, fire, or insects; or it’s considered to be a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases through photosynthesis.

According to NRCan, Canada’s managed forests have primarily been a carbon sink, but recently there has been a shift and they have become carbon sources, releasing more carbon than storing it, due in large part to wildfires and insect outbreaks, a likely result of a changing climate.

This year’s National Forest Week’s theme is “Our forests – continually giving,” and the Canadian Institute of Forestry has a number of resources to learn more about the value of forests and the importance of protecting and conserving them.

PPEC is pleased to celebrate National Forest Week this week, but it’s important to recognize that every day our members are continually working with recycled fibres, continually replanting and regenerating the little that is harvested, and continually adhering to sustainable forest management practices in their operations.

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Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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