The accusation that making paper is a scourge on the environment has become increasingly loud as society becomes more digitised, with advocates of a paperless society claiming it is greener than a society that consumes paper as a matter of course.
The paper industry, though, has a strong counter argument, that its practices are environmentally sound and that it boasts a commitment to sustainable forestry. This is an argument promoted by paper and print advocacy group Two Sides, which last year ran an advertising campaign featured in the national press promoting the sustainability of paper and print.
Key messages delivered by the campaign include the fact that Europe recycles 72% of paper consumed and European forests have increased in size by 30% since 1950 and central to the campaign was a competition inviting winners to go on trips and see the day-to-day workings of a paper mill.
Launched in April 2015, the No Wonder You Love Paper competition involved entrants watching a short video about European forests and answering three multiple choice questions. There were more than 5,000 entries, but only 24 could win, and these winners headed out with their plus ones to a variety of participating mills all over Europe, including in Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Slovakia.
PrintWeek joined four competition winners on one such trip.
The paper mill we visited is located in the picturesque Bavarian town of Augsburg and is owned by UPM.
Much of Germany’s forestry, which covers around one third of the country, is certified to certain ecological and socio-economic standards, a level of accreditation that UPM demands from all its supply partners.
Guided by forester Florian Loher, we were shown the importance of a forest boasting a mixed variety of trees, as this allows the forest ecosystem to adapt to environmental changes, such as changes in climate.
We were also shown how the controlled and humane killing of bark beetles and other menaces helps the forest ecosystem; how the natural richness of the soil is maintained by rules preventing vehicles endangering it; and how a younger generation of Bavarians are embracing the environmental cause.
Later in the day, we were taken on a trip around UPM’s paper mill in Augsburg and shown the full manufacturing and recycling process at a mill which makes nearly 500,000 tonnes a year of paper for magazines, advertising supplements and other paper-based sources.
“I was interested in certification. I knew certification was a good thing but I didn’t actually know what it entailed,” said Zein Verdi, one of the competition winners, after the tour.
“They (UPM) do obviously put a lot of care into the supply chain, both on the forest side and also making sure they are bringing a lot of contracts with other publishers to bring in the paper they want to recycle.”
His companion for the trip was his mother, Gayle Verdi, who likewise says the trip has made her re-evaluate her perceptions of the industry.
Gayle, who recently studied for a Masters in Environmental Science, says she was unaware of the whole process that went into paper making and recycling, such as how paper is divided into grades depending on fibre length.
She said: “I have always recycled paper but I hadn’t realised about dividing it into different qualities.
“The key thing I’ve learned, which I will take back with me, is the number of times that paper can be recycled and reused which is up to five times.”
Similarly, husband and wife Chris and John Constable said their perception of the paper industry has now been “improved no end”.
Chris Constable said she was “really impressed” by the mixed planting of trees.
“It’s good that they are now trying to get the sustainability with the mixed planting, where they have got the habitat.
“Our recycling is in four different sections and we have to separate paper and cardboard but there are certain types of paper that have to go in with the cardboard. And I never realised the reason behind it, it’s because they can use the good paper in certain industries.
“You felt that they [UPM] were really trying to recycle every part, such as sending staples to metal recycling. I think my impression of paper making has improved no end.”
John Constable agreed and said the whole trip had been “educational” and changed his views of the paper making industry for the better.
UPM has an active environmental programme, which looks to increase biodiversity in forests as well as promoting best practices in sustainable forestry and wood sourcing, including buying wood from environmentally certified forests.
Two Sides managing director Martyn Eustace said: “The No Wonder You Love Paper competition was a fantastic opportunity for members of the public to see paper-making and sustainable forestry in action.
“Print and paper have a great environmental story to tell, and Two Sides, through campaigns such as No Wonder You Love Paper, continues to tell this, and other great stories about the sustainability and attractiveness of print and paper, to millions of consumers every year.”