Sustainable Forests

Sustainable forests
Paper and fiber-based packaging is a natural and renewable material.  EPPA members are committed to sourcing it from sustainably managed forests that play an important role in mitigating climate change by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere through reforestation.

What is sustainable forest certification?
There are several sustainable forestry certification programs that are run by organizations, such the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC™) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI®). Their forest management certification standards address a wide range of economic, social, environmental and technical aspects of forest management such as forest conversion, forest plantations, reforestation, pest management, forest management plans, health, safety and working conditions.

Certifications help establish common principles in different environments as global forest ownership is diverse. Public owners typically hold large forest areas, whereas ownership is more fragmented among private owners. The scale of ownership has an impact on forest management targets and practices.

How does wood fiber packaging contribute to climate neutrality?
In the EU alone, sustainably managed forests deliver an overall climate mitigation impact equal to 13% of European greenhouse gas emissions through sequestration, storage and the substitution of non-renewable, fossil-based materials.  Wood-based raw materials are renewable and versatile, and their use is increasing around the globe.  For example, construction companies use timber to erect new offices and homes.  The food industry is increasingly using wood-fiber based products such as paper and cardboard.  Virgin wood fiber is typically used in direct food contact scenarios to comply with European legislation.

Wood fiber originates from full-grown trees as well as from young trees thinned out to allow the forests to grow. In sustainable forestry, all material is used for their most appropriate purposes:

  • 60% of the tree is formed of the trunk. It is the hardest and best quality wood that is used, for example, in construction and in manufacturing furniture.
  • 25% of the tree is pulp wood, which comes mainly from the top proportion of the tree. It is used to produce cellulose and fiber - the raw materials for paper, paperboard, and cardboard. Typically, the wood fiber in packaging originates from these sources.
  • The remaining 15% of the tree are the smallest parts of wood, such as branches, bark and wood chips.  These are normally used in energy production.

Increased demand for timber and wood fiber from sustainably managed forests means more trees are planted.  Today, the general rule is that, in sustainably managed forests, for each felled tree, three new trees are planted.

Using wood-fiber for packaging generates added value for forest-owners and the paper industry.  That provides additional incentives for afforestation and supports sustainable forest management.  In fact, European forests generate income for more than 16 million private forest owners, and forest activities have a turnover of almost € 500 billion, employing approximately 3.5 million people.  In Europe, forests cover around 35% of the land area (190 million ha), making Europe one of the most forest-rich regions in the world.  Forests today are over 30% larger than in the 1950s.

Virgin fibers have specific qualities for appearance and processability which make them suitable for use food packaging with direct food contact. After use, virgin fibers return to the paper cycle as fresh cellulose, where it enhances the quality of recycled material.  Wood fiber can be recycled up to seven times before it loses its strength. 

Recycled fibers are sourced from manufacturing or from post-consumer recycled materials. Depending on the source, such materials can be used in molded fiber applications such as fiber plates, egg cartons and trays as well as cup carriers and wine bottle protectors.

The future
EPPA members believe that fiber-based packaging is integral to Europe’s modern food economy, which provides citizens with safe, high-quality and affordable food.  They also believe that fiber-based packaging can support the EU’s objectives to achieve carbon-neutrality within the framework of a circular economy by:

  • Helping to decarbonize the food chain, keeping food waste to a minimum and substituting CO2 intensive materials with forest-based alternatives.
  • Reducing waste by working with policymakers and value chains to introduce 21st Century recycling systems.
  • Increasing circularity by working with policymakers and value chains to develop new secondary streams for recycled wood fiber.