Waste management

Less Plastic & More Paper: Will it Resolve Environmental Woes?

calendar06 Jul, 2024
timeReading Time: 5 Minutes
Resolve Environmental Woes

The most common topic of recent decades has been the ongoing global environmental crisis and the call for reducing the use of plastics. One of the most popular solutions is shifting from plastic to paper. This switch appears to be quite advantageous and can resolve environmental woes.

Plastic pollution is known to be a well-documented environmental hazard, littering landscapes, clogging waterways and posing a threat to wildlife, providing vivid testimony. On the other hand, paper is considered to be more environmentally friendly as it is biodegradable. The source material of paper is wood, which is considered reusable and renewable, but the solution is not as simple as it seems.

So, in this blog, we will look deeper into understanding the potential pros and cons of replacing plastic with paper and the potential of whether this change can make a significant difference and resolve environmental woes.

The Problem with Plastic is a Matter of Concern!

Plastic is so widely used as it is a material that is easily available in the market and affordable, versatile, and durable simultaneously. However, these positive attributes contribute to its environmental impact. Plastic is made out of petrochemicals that create a pervasive emission of greenhouse gases. These plastic-based wastes persist for a hundred years in landscapes as fragments of microplastics in ecosystems, water supplies, and the food chain.

The statistics reveal how serious this problem could get, with more than 8 million tons of plastic waste entering the oceans yearly. By the year 2050, it is predicted that plastic will weigh more than all the fish in the oceans. Marine animals usually eat the plastic debris, which eventually leads to their death from starving or being poisoned. At the same time, this poses a threat to human health since microplastics enter our bloodstream through the medium of the food we consume.

Paper as an Alternative Option to Resolve Environmental Woes

Analysing the issues caused due to the consumption of plastic, paper as an alternative seems like a better option as it is biodegradable in nature and is derived from renewable resources. Paper disintegrates and is reduced to a form of soil within a short time. This helps avoid long-term pollution compared to the time taken by plastic.

Paper is also made from wood, and wood is a renewable material if it is managed in the correct way and through proper utilisation of the right techniques in the part of forestry.

Sustainable forestry is another one of the most evident innovations the paper industry has come up with. These innovations in recycling and sustainable forestry have enormously helped decrease the industry’s carbon footprint.

Recycled paper is becoming more and more visible. It’s the right alternative to resolve environmental woes. It is being used in various applications and certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to ensure that paper products indeed are derived from the forests that are managed responsibly.

Environmental Impacts of Paper Manufacturing

Switching from plastic to paper is itself a costly affair. The manufacturing of paper requires massive utilisation of natural resources and energy. Here is why the following are some critical environmental impacts of paper manufacturing:

  • Deforestation:

Despite the potential for making paper from sustainably sourced wood, the demand for paper is still a major source of deforestation in some places. The consequence of deforestation is a decrease in biodiversity, increased deforestation, habitat change, and extra carbon emissions caused by cutting down trees, which act as a carbon sink.

  • Water Consumption:

Paper manufacturing is especially water-intensive, as it takes 20 gallons of water to produce a single sheet of paper. High water usage increases environmental stress, especially in places with deficient water supplies.

  • Chemical Pollution:

These chemicals can be pretty harsh in nature, and thus, the two processes of pulping and bleaching in paper manufacturing stand out as the most contaminating processes. These chemicals, including chlorine and its derivatives, are the leading toxic chemicals responsible for spreading poison to aquatic life and posing major health risks to humans.

  • Energy Use and Emissions:

Though some progress has been made in making paper mills more efficient, they still require large amounts of energy input, which is often derived from fossil fuels, infrastructure, and other sources that generate greenhouse gases. Paper production is less energy-intensive than plastic, but this does not mean the impact on the environment is negligible.

Basis Comparison between the Lifecycle of Plastic and Paper

The lifecycle of plastic and paper, from production to final disposal, must be considered when comparing the environment. Therefore, the detailed analysis of each of their phases is as follows:

The phase of production:

➢   Plastic: Since plastic is derived from petrochemicals, its production involves high energy usage and more greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, plastics are durable and can be used multiple times, possibly reducing eventual effects if properly recycled.

➢   Paper: The paper production process results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than plastic. However, this is coupled with considerable water use and consumption and deforestation, w, which is mainly carried out by attributing the process to harmful chemical activity.

Usage Phase:

➢   Plastic: Plastic is versatile and efficient from an aspect of material use because of its strength and lightweight. Its durability in this context, however, amounts to a liability when considering waste management.

➢   Paper: Paper is relatively less durable than plastic, which means it gets replaced multiple times and quite often. This is especially true for packaging items, a segment where paper alternatives such as plastic may not have the same efficiency or effectiveness as them, ultimately leading to a rise in their usage.

Disposal Phase:

➢   Plastic: Plastic waste remains for hundreds of years, piling up in landfills and oceans. These materials are poor recyclers with only about 9% of the plastic being recycled. Burning of plastic waste can also release toxic emissions.

➢   Paper: Paper is slightly bulky to recycle, but it can still be easily recycled. Paper is popular these days, with the recycling rate nearly touching 68% in the United States. However, it uses a lot of energy and water. Also, the chemicals involved in paper recycling can harm the surroundings and the environment.

Holistic Approach to Resolve Environmental Woes

Substituting paper for plastic itself will not solve the root causes that are leading to environmental degradation. A holistic approach toward reducing general consumption, increasing recycling and exploring new materials and practices has to be adopted. Therefore, some of the important Holistic Approaches adopted to resolve Environmental Woes are as follows:

  • Reducing Consumption:

Among the most effective ways to reduce environmental impact is lowering total consumption by reconsidering product design to use fewer materials, inhibiting minimalism, and adopting sustainable consumption habits. It is a significant approach to resolving environmental woes.

  • Improvements in Recycling Infrastructure:

Infrastructures for recycling and technologies need to be improved. More efficient and more widespread recycling systems need to be devised for both plastic and paper and the required investments in infrastructures and technologies must be made by the respective governments and industries. It can be increased further by publicising knowledge of the right sorting and disposal practices through education campaigns.

  • Exploring Innovative Materials:

Material science is now the most innovative field that lives up to the promises of an alternative to plastic and paper. Plastics produced by biodegradable and renewable sources like plant-based polymers will greatly decrease the dependence on petrochemicals, thus somewhat reducing pollution. Mushroom packaging or algae-made bioplastics are recent advancements in material science that hold potential for sustainable alternatives.

  • Policy and Regulation:

It is where people expect governments to drive sustainable practices through policies and regulations. This way, industries within the country, including those keen on bans against single-use plastics, incentives for recycling and assistance in sustainable forestry practices, could steer industries or consumers toward more environment-friendly choices. It is a substantial approach to resolving environmental woes. Plants and industries must meet EPR compliance needs and follow EPR target fulfilment process to empower eco-friendly mechanisms.

Conclusion

As we begin to shift from plastic to paper, some environmental benefits are being derived from that shift, but it is not the solution to our problem. Paper manufacturing has its own environmental challenges, including deforestation, water consumption and chemical pollution. Hence, it is necessary to take a holistic approach, which includes reducing overall consumption, improving recycling infrastructure, exploring innovative materials, and implementing strong policy measures.

It is wiser to address and tackle the root causes of environmental degradation and encourage sustainable practices, which will help us in making more significant strides in resolving environmental woes. Thus, only through a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategy, we can hope to achieve a truly sustainable future.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is wrong with plastic material in the environment?

    The main environmental concern of Plastic is that it emits greenhouse gases, has a very slow biodegradation rate, takes up to hundreds of years to degrade, and is hazardous to a wide range of wildlife, particularly marine life.

  2. What are the advantages paper offers as a material compared to plastic?

    It can be said that paper is a better option than plastic because it is more environmentally friendly. Paper is a biodegradable product derived from renewable resources, and it is recycled easily.

  3. What are the effects of paper production on the environment?

    Evidently, paper production poses several threats, including deforestation, increased water use, chemicals that pollute water, and increased energy use.

  4. Which material is more friendly to the environment, plastic or paper?

    Plastic has higher GEM emissions, but it is long-lasting. In the same context, Paper emits lesser damage, though it tends to wear out faster than other brands and, therefore, needs to be replaced fairly often.

  5. Is there any new solution that is different from plastics and paper?

    Yes, there is the emergence of innovative, plant-based polymers, mushroom packaging, and algae-produced bioplastics, among others, which are completely different from plastic and paper.

  6. Is recycling a good way to handle plastics and papers?

    Paper can be recycled much more easily than plastic. For instance, only 9% of all plastic used can be recycled; on the other hand, 68% of paper can be recycled. Yet, both require better physical facilities and technology for recycling.

Read our article: EPR Plastic Registration And EPR Plastic Waste Management

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