Sustainable paper products may still use trees, which is necessary for recycled paper.

Sustainable Paper Products: What to Look For and Where to Buy

Rachel Lark - February 24, 2024

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While many brands treat green practices like a fad, it’s crucial to the planet’s survival. The many other enterprises that ignore the calls for gentler methods pump chemicals into the air and ocean, causing damage humanity constantly fights to clean up. While it’s easy to become focused on their carelessness, there are plenty of businesses putting the Earth first. Of those, sustainable paper products stand as a critical bridge to a healthier environment.

Why Is Eco-Friendly Paper Important?

The world needs to care more about how it produces paper so it doesn’t cut down as many trees. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 10 million hectares (ha) of forest have been chopped down yearly, resulting in 4.7 million ha of tree loss since 2010. Those numbers are lower than in previous years, but the Earth has still lost 178 million ha of forest space since 1990 — around the size of Libya.

Despite how bleak that all sounds, responsible action has made significant progress in reducing the waste paper companies produce. Carbon neutrality and green harvesting practices have made substantial changes that have improved the industry. For example, the United States’ net forest area has grown 18 million acres since 1990 and 2020. Pulp and paper mills used renewable carbon-neutral biomass for 64% of their energy use and reduced emissions per item by nearly a quarter from 2005 levels. Water usage also continues to decrease.

However, that’s not to say it’s time to become complacent. Only 68% of paper and paper-based packages were recycled in 2022, and there’s still a need to increase renewable electricity usage. Selecting environmentally safe paper items and brands that dedicate themselves to improving the sector remains vital.

What Comprises Sustainable Paper Products?

Five essential factors can help distinguish responsible paper enterprises and offerings:

  1. Reducing waste: What does the business do with its wastewater, solid waste and paper sludge? Responsible ones do their best to clean these landfill-able byproducts so they avoid adding more trash to the environment.
  2. Listening to buyers: When a brand cares about the Earth, it listens to its consumers and works to improve its practices. It also will provide transparent evidence of its strive to become greener.
  3. Lowering pollution: One of the most important aspects of sustainable paper products is the power used to produce them. Renewable energy — along with practical waste recycling, reduction and disposal — is a large part of an eco-friendly company’s effort to minimize emissions.
  4. Complying with regulations: Government organizations work with scientific evidence to create standards that improve the planet’s viability. Paper and pulp mills can earn certifications and provide proof of working within regulations to prove they’re doing their best for the environment.
  5. Responsible production: Naturally, the enterprise needs to source its trees and water responsibly to be truly environmentally friendly. If they wantonly chop down forests and dump wastewater back into local sources, they contribute to the problem. Replanting trees or turning barren areas into forests, recycling materials, and cleaning the liquid used in production are all crucial steps.

It’s important to note that paper can only be recycled so many times before the fibers become too short to use. At some point, it will be necessary to introduce fresh wood fibers so the reclaimed material remains strong enough to be used as paper. Sustainable producers must source wood from managed forests and contribute to replanting so they can create quality items while leaving minimal traces.

Unique Materials for Paper

Those who want to forego tree-based paper can look to a host of alternatives for their needs. These include:

  • Sugarcane: The byproduct bagasse forms the pulp for this form of paper, and it’s recyclable, compostable, and chlorine- and acid-free.
  • Seed: This paper uses post-industrial and post-consumer waste with vegetable, herb, or flower seeds. It has a more organic look and users can put it in the ground to create new plant life.
  • Hemp: Hemp is incredibly strong and sustainable — it requires much less water, chemicals and energy in processing. It also regrows much faster than trees.
  • Straw: Rather than burning this wheat byproduct, plants can make it into paper to reduce farming emissions. Processing it requires less energy than typical practices and it has a lovely off-white color.
  • Bamboo: This plant can grow up to 1.5 inches an hour at its fastest and establishes in about three years. It’s pretty hard to beat that rate.
  • Recycled cotton: Worried about how much waste fashion items create? Paper made with denim and t-shirt scraps makes a difference and is of high quality.

Paper Companies With Truly Eco-Friendly Practices

It’s easy for businesses to say they’re “going green,” but without any regulation on the term, how is it possible to determine which ones are actually interested in saving the Earth? Here are a few brands that take their sustainable paper products seriously.

1. EcoEnclose

This enterprise utilizes 90%–100% recycled fiber while offering cleaner adhesives and inks. Its paper comes as envelopes, hang tags, business cards, note cards and standard office paper. The site also includes a Transparency list that makes its work visible and notes its continued work to improve its eco-friendliness.

2. Who Gives a Crap

As its humorous name implies, Who Gives a Crap specializes in toilet paper but has branched out into paper towels and tissues since its founding. Its bamboo roll is made of 100% bamboo, while the recycled one contains 100% reused fibers. Additionally, the brand donates 50% of its profits to increasing bathroom access worldwide.

3. Botanical PaperWorks

This company is notable for its seed paper but does offer seedless recycled alternatives. It has an extensive wedding collection, business materials, environmentally friendly confetti, baby shower decor, memorial items, sustainable packaging and even soap. Shoppers have options for vegetable, flower, and herb blends so they can enjoy beautiful flowers or a delicious home-grown meal.

Opt For Sustainable Paper Products Today

The paper industry is working on its green efforts, but progress is still necessary. Looking into each company’s process and occasionally choosing businesses that take a new approach are the best ways to ensure eco-friendlier purchasing habits. Consider opting for sustainable paper products to start making a difference in the world.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.