FACT & FICTION
Here are some common fictions about paper bags, and the facts.
FICTION: Every time we need a paper bag, we cut down a tree.
FACT: Paper bags in Canada are mostly made from wood chips and sawmill residues left over from lumber operations. Nothing is wasted. Even rotten, bent, or twisted saw logs are salvaged and used. Some US mills supplying the Canadian market use mostly old corrugated boxes collected from supermarkets and factories or from curbside (what the industry calls recycled pulp) to make bag material. > Click on Trees
FICTION: Canada is running out of trees.
FACT: The whole Canadian forest industry (pulp, paper, lumber, and other products) harvested less than 0.2% of the commercial forest in the most recent year for which data are available (2012). By law, those forests must be regenerated, and they are. About 67% of the harvest is currently regenerated through tree planting and direct seeding (some 500 million seedlings per year or 1.46 million seedlings per day), while the remainder is regenerated naturally. Provincial legislation ensures that the industry balances what it harvests with the growth of new forests. >
FICTION: We use only half of the tree.
FACT: Virtually 100% of any tree harvested for kraft paper production in Canada is used and/or re-used. Branches, leaves, and needles are returned to the forest soil. Bark and other wood residuals are combusted to make electricity and steam. Logs are sawn into high-value lumber. Wood chips and other sawmill residues are used to produce not only pulp and paper but also the energy that drives the kraft process. A kraft mill converts wood fibres to pulp fibres by dissolving the lignin (the glue that binds the wood fibres together). Non-fibrous materials (such as dissolved lignin and hemicelluloses) are then used as fuel, minimising both waste and ecological impact. > Click on Energy
FICTION: Paper bags cannot be made from recycled pulp.
FACT: Many kraft paper mills now make paper bag material from predominantly recycled pulp (from old corrugated boxes collected from supermarkets and factories or from curbside). Sometimes pulp made from wood chips and sawmill residues is added to the recycled pulp to give the bag greater strength. > Click on Recyclable
FICTION: Kraft paper mills are huge consumers of non-renewable (fossil fuel) energy.
FACT: Kraft paper mills in Canada are, in fact, major users of renewable energy (biomass). Their goal, and they are inching ever closer towards achieving it, is to be energy-neutral or even better, net energy positive. In other words, the mill generates sufficient energy and power from burning residual materials (lignin etc.) to meet all its own energy requirements, and then is able to sell surplus power to the local grid. Over a year, the net balance could be zero or even positive. > Click on Energy
FICTION: Paper bags are a major waste management cost.
FACT: Used paper bags are usually bundled with old corrugated boxes for recycling and are over five times less expensive to recycle than plastic bags, according to the industry body that runs Ontario’s Blue Box program. > Click on Recyclable
FICTION: Most life cycle analyses (LCAs) conclude that plastic bags are “better for the environment” than paper bags.
FACT: Paper bags have some attributes, plastic has others. Using foreign life cycle studies that have little relationship to how bags are actually produced in Canada is very misleading. For example, no current comparative studies adequately recognise the Canadian paper industry’s high use of wood chips and sawmill residues to make bag material, or its significant use of renewable energy (biomass). Nor do current LCAs reflect litter issues and litter’s impact on marine life. > Click on Policy