Paper companies and Canadian forests

From ToxicLeaks

Canada’s boreal forests[edit | edit source]

Boreal forests are critical to the planet’s ability to sequester carbon and ever more so as the global community faces new challenges from climate change. Canada’s boreal forest contains the highest levels of carbon storage of any land-based ecosystem, while also holding more surface fresh water than any ecosystem too. These northern forests circle the globe just south of the Arctic regions, and span Russia, China, Nordic nations and parts of the United States in addition to Canada. The Canadian forests account for 75 percent of forest and woodland in Earth’s boreal zones and serve as important wildlife habitats. Yet Canada’s boreal forests – some 307 million hectares of primarily conifer species – are now under increasing pressure. Despite Canada’s impressive leadership on sustainable logging, the industry remains a threat to the forests, as do the oil and gas industry, climate-related wildfires and mineral mining. In southern areas, one percent of the forest is lost each year, a pace on par with the tropical rainforests.

Impacts of paper industry logging[edit | edit source]

At least 41 percent of the boreal forest has been disrupted by anthropogenic causes, according to the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel, and 23 percent is degraded or damaged. There’s evidence that the trees are dying younger naturally too, likely because of more carbon and less water. On the other hand, research from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) shows young trees soak up 25 percent more atmospheric CO2 than old ones do, highlighting the need for regrowth. Logging accounts for much of the impact on Canada’s boreal forests. About 8,000 square kilometers are logged each year, and roughly 90 percent of that is clearcut. A 2017 report from the National Resources Defense Council found clearcutting responsible for about 26 million metric tons of Canada’s CO2 emissions annually. That’s an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 5.5 million vehicles, but NRDC says Canada’s government doesn’t account for the loss in greenhouse gas emissions calculations. Most of the logging is for pulp to make paper products – a process that has its own negative impacts on environment and indigenous communities – and tissues like toilet paper have an outsized footprint.

Tissue manufacturers and products[edit | edit source]

A February 2019 report from in partnership with NRDC calls out Kimberly-Clark, Proctor & Gamble and other industry giants for the damage caused to Canada’s boreal forests because of the unsustainable approach to sourcing the wood and pulp materials used in toilet tissue production. The “Issue With Tissue” report points out that the top brands from these company are made without any recycled materials, using all virgin fibers, and they’re not making a shift to alternative or recovered materials outside of products sold to airports, offices and other outside-the-home bathrooms. That’s largely because of decades of marketing for primarily United States consumers that promises softness.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests,” the report said. “Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulas that have taken a devastating toll on forests.” The companies should be spending their research and development budgets on “tackling the problems their products cause for the planet.”

Consumer choices and sustainability[edit | edit source]

The environmental damage isn’t limited to the paper-company logging. The process of turning wood into soft, comfy toilet tissue involves harsh chemical treatments, and high water and energy inputs. Customers aren’t considering the costs to the climate when they’re buying the paper products either.

Americans are especially guilty, because they account for just over 4 percent of the global population but are using 20 percent of the toilet paper. The average user in the United States consumes 141 rolls of toilet paper each year, with Germany’s 134 and the UK’s 127 rolls right behind. France uses half of what the U.S. consumer does at 71 rolls, which is less toilet paper than Spain and about the same as Italy.

Consumers have options for products with recycled content – the NRDC report rates the companies and brands on their sustainable sourcing – but people don’t routinely choose them. Products made with recycled pulp materials use half the water and generate half the pollutants from manufacturing, while dramatically reducing bleach and other chemicals used. The emissions are just a third when compared with brands made from newly logged forests. Consumers also have wheat straw, bamboo and other alternatives to choose from, but they need to be open to real change in order to boost sustainability.

They also need to do so quickly. Tissue is the fastest-growing sector in the paper industry, with a 3.5 percent annual increase between 2010 and 2015. That’s especially true as tissue products take off in the developing world, which is driving projections of 6 percent annual increases through 2012. Making a switch to more sustainable products is needed to protect the boreal forests, the caribou and North American birds and other wildlife living there, but also the lives of everyone on the planet counting on the boreal forest to continue its critical carbon sink work.