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Paper industry suffers from environmental perception problem – new report

Two Sides’ latest study ‘Paper’s Place in a Post-Pandemic World’ aims to understand changing consumer perceptions towards print, paper, paper packaging and tissue products.

Paper industry suffers from environmental perception problem – new report
Jonathan Tame: “These misunderstandings make the work we do with Two Sides and Love Paper even more vital.” Photograph: Brian Garrity on Unsplash.

This insight into consumer attitudes towards the paper industry will be repeated biennially to monitor and report upon evolving consumer perceptions as environmental awareness intensifies and alternative digital channels of communication become prevalent.

Results of the 2021 study show that, whilst paper retains its place as a vital communication and packaging materials, there remain misconceptions about the environmental impact of the paper industry, says Two Sides.

Consumers are not aware that European forests are growing

The study found that consumers still believe forests are decreasing in size, with 59% of UK consumers believing that European forests are shrinking. In reality, says Two Sides, between 2005 and 2020, European forests grew by an impressive 58,390km – an area larger than Switzerland and equivalent to 1,500 football pitches of forest growth every day. Other findings from the survey relating to forest growth include:

  • Just 9% of UK consumers understand that European forests are growing.
  • 18-24 year olds (Gen Z) have the highest belief that forests are shrinking (69%).
  • Although more people believe forests are growing (9% compared to 4% in 2013), there is still a significant gap in understanding.

The high recycling rates for paper and paper packaging are not appreciated

According to Two Sides, another common misconception about the paper industry is the amount of paper that’s recycled. The survey found that just 17% of UK consumers believe the paper recycling rate exceeds 60%. Furthermore, 46% believe that paper and paper packaging is wasteful. In reality, Europe’s paper recycling rate is currently 72%, with paper packaging even higher at 84%.

  • In 2019, a total of 57.5 million tonnes of paper was collected and recycled in Europe.
  • 18-24 year olds have the biggest misconception relating to recycling, with just 12% believing the paper recycling rate exceeds 60%.
  • 66% of consumers think only recycled paper should be used.

Paper vs electronic communication

The past year has accelerated the growth of electronic communication, with meetings, events and day-to-day business increasingly being conducted online and consumers relying more on online news. While convenience and the ability for people to work at home are undoubtedly key drivers in this shift, the environmental impact of digital communications is often overlooked.

Paper and print products are among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters at 0.8% whereas, says Two Sides, the ICT industry accounts for 2.5-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and this is predicted to rise to 14% by 20403. Despite this, 66% of consumers surveyed in the report think electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper communication.

“This report shows there are many environmental misconceptions surrounding print and paper products,” says Jonathan Tame, Managing Director of Two Sides Europe. “Many consumers believe that European forests are shrinking in size, massively underestimate the paper recycling rate, and do not understand the sustainable nature of paper products. These misunderstandings make the work we do with Two Sides and Love Paper even more vital.”

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