The bag that is part
of a sustainable future
Paper bags are natural
Wood is the raw material used in papermaking and the major source paper bags. This natural source is renewable and ever-growing.
More than a third of Europe is covered by forests. Forest areas amount to 215 million hectares in Europe.1 This provides a wealth of natural resources and an enormous potential to mitigate climate change.
Forest cover in Europe is growing by 1.4% per year.1 This is thanks to the continuous replantation of trees during harvesting. For each tree harvested, two more are planted. Sustainable forest management protects water courses, increases research in new species, protects biodiversity and looks after the welfare of forest industry workers.
All constituents from a tree are fully utilised when a tree is harvested – there is no waste. The trunk is typically used for sawn timber and pulpwood. The stump, branches and tops of the tree are used for bioenergy. The fibres for pulp production are withdrawn from tree thinnings and from process waste from the sawn timber industry. They are 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable.
Paper bags store CO2
Paper is based on wood, a natural and renewable material. As young trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (C02) from the atmosphere. Furthermore, as a wood product, paper also continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime.
1 m3 of wood captures 1 tonne of CO2 while emitting 0.7 tonnes of oxygen. The average annual sequestration of carbon in European forest biomass reaches 719 million tonnes of CO2.1 This offsets the fossil CO2 emissions generated annually by Germany (including by the energy industries, manufacturing industries and construction, transport, households, agriculture and waste)2 or by 209 coal-fired power plants.3 The carbon stored is not released when the tree is cut, but rather remains in the forest’s products, such as wooden products and paper bags. One kilo of paper stores 1.3 kilos of C02 equivalents and this carbon sequestration time is extended when we recycle the paper.
Paper bags are recyclable and biodegradable
Europe is the world leader in recycling paper. The paper recycling rate in Europe is 71.5%, which means that 59 million tonnes of paper are recycled each year1 -that’s 2 tonnes of paper every second. Paper bags are part of this loop, as the fibres within a paper bag are reused on average 3.5 times in Europe.2 However, a cellulose fibre from a paper product can be recycled up to six times3, before it is turned into bioenergy or being composted at the end of its life cycle. Recycling paper means reducing polluting emissions produced by landfills.
And if a paper bag were to mistakenly end up in nature, it would not harm the land or the oceans. As a natural product, it is biodegradable within two to five months without harming the environment, unlike other shopping bags that can take more than 400 years to decompose.
Paper bags are reusable
Experience shows that consumers reuse paper bags for different purposes or use them for their next shopping trips.
Paper bags have a low climate impact
All industrial activity impacts the environment. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can work as a tool for measuring the environmental performance of different products and processes.
One of the environmental impact categories is Global Warming Potential (GWP). It describes how much global warming a given type and amount of greenhouse gas may cause, using the functionally equivalent amount or concentration of C02 as a benchmark.
IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has conducted a study on the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production of different paper and plastic bags.1 The conclusion was that paper bags (produced with virgin fibres or recycled fibres) have a remarkably low impact on GWP compared to Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) bags (produced with renewable or recycled LDPE).
The eco-labelling of paper bags
It is increasingly common for paper products to be labelled with information on the environmental aspects that have been considered in certain stages of their life cycle. With these labels, paper manufacturers and distributors communicate the environmental and sustainability aspects both of their products and the raw materials used, as well as their environmental performance. This provides useful information to help us express to the market our decision to use certain materials rather than others.
The symbols represent the paper bag’s attributes, for example:
Renewable, given that its raw material, cellulose fibre, is ever-growing, being specifically grown in forests that are managed responsibly. Biodegradable, since paper bags are made from natural fibres, are printed with water-based inks and ecological glues and degrade in a short period of time without damaging the natural environment. Recyclable, since the cellulose fibres from a paper bag can be recycled up to six times before it is turned into bioenergy or being composted at the end of its life cycle.
Reusable, as it has been shown that paper bags can be reused at least five times for the transportation of the same type of product for which it was originally acquired.