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Managing Natural Resources

New and recycled fibers

Many people believe that increasing the recycled content in packaging reduces the environmental footprint. In truth, there are times when more recycled content may have a greater total environmental impact. (Did you know, that paper can only be recycled 4-7 times, and there's an increasing yield loss as fiber is recycled again and again). In reality, sustainable packaging requires both new and recycled fiber. It takes both kinds of fiber in a mutually supporting and complimentary cycle to make paper-based packaging one of the most sustainable products in the world.

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Why can't all corrugated boxes be made from 100% recycled material?

A) Strength: As fibers are recycled repeatedly, they degrade, losing strength.
B) Supply: There's not enough recycled fiber to meet demand.
C) Sustainability: If we stop using virgin fibers, our U.S. forests could be endangered as landowners shift to other uses for their land, such as residential, commercial or industrial development.

Addition of virgin fiber is necessary to balance all of the above.

Strength - A brown box left outside begins to disintegrate. That's because it's made from wood fibers that nature designed to decompose. Repeated recycling of wood fibers also causes them to degrade over time. In fact, a recent study found that without any virgin fiber added, only 2% of original fibers survived the 5th round of recycling. Because wood fibers are a renewable natural resource, they are, by nature, not infinitely recyclable.

Supply - Even though more than 85% of all U.S. corrugated is recycled, that's still not enough fiber to meet the worldwide demand. There is also an 8-12% process loss in recycling packaging grades, and 10 tons of old paper only yields about 8 tons of reusable pulp. The research study concluded that the pulp and paper industry would run out of recycled fibers in only 2-6 months if fresh virgin fibers were not added into the overall supply.

Sustainability - By responsibly using virgin fibers from well-managed sources, we are actually protecting the health and well being of the ecologically valuable U.S. private forestlands that supply more than 90% of all U.S. wood harvested. In essence, that means that we're protecting our water supply and helping to mitigate the effects of climate change by keeping forests intact to store carbon and help clean the air.

For more answers to sustainability questions, take our Calculation Checker quiz

For more answers to sustainability questions, take our Calculation Checker quiz