Pulp Magic

FEBRUARY 24, 2016

What the New York Times Misses on the Economics and Environmental Profile of Paper-based Packaging

Man holding BoxWe sent the below letter — complete with detailed factual substantiation — to the New York Times, challenging some of the misleading implications of a recent article on the environmental profile of paper-based packaging. The Times has not responded, but it’s important that readers know the full story.

* * *

To the Editor—

A recent article (“E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard” By Matt Richtel, 2/16/16) might leave readers with a mistaken impression of both the ecology and the economics of the paper-based packaging industry. Contrary to the implication of the piece, increased demand for paper-based products due to the rise of e-commerce incentivizes the growing of more trees, which is part of the reason tree volume in American forests is actually increasing.

Indeed, experts agree that the real threat to trees in this country is the conversion of productive forestland to non-forest product uses like housing or commercial development. That risk is greatest when demand for forest products is weak—something consumers eschewing paper-based packaging in the name of “saving” trees should consider.

As for “wasteful” cardboard boxes, the reality is that packaging usually lives many lives, whether it’s reused or recycled. And our companies are strongly incentivized to make packaging as efficient as possible, not just because it’s good for the environment, but because it makes them more competitive in the marketplace.

Readers deserve to know that the basic laws of supply, demand, and competition don’t cease to exist when the material in boxes is paper — one of the most renewable materials on the planet.

Mary Anne Hansan

Executive Director, Paper & Packaging Board