RaboResearch has released a report on the shift from virgin plastic to pulp and paper alternatives.

The report states that the apparent sustainability benefits of pulp and paper are overshadowed by several major challenges and its adoption to replace plastic is not a one-size-fits-all remedy.

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But investment is nevertheless increasing and many packaging industry leaders believe that the money pouring into pulp technology by some of the biggest plastic players is a sign that the trend will be around for years to come.

Major companies swapping plastic for paper and pulp

E-commerce giant Amazon is using paper-based packaging for its shipments to reduce its reliance on plastic materials.

Procter & Gamble is increasingly using paper-based alternatives to achieve its goal of a 30% absolute plastic reduction by 2025.

Nestlé is integrating paper packaging into its product lines, particularly in the food and beverage sector, as it works to meet its goal of reducing plastics by a third for 2025.

Challenges with paper and pulp replacements

But pulp and paper struggle in life-cycle assessments against plastic counterparts. While the substrates seemingly lend themselves to compostability or recyclability, this benefit can be thwarted if products require coatings to create protective barriers.

Pulp and paper alternatives require more material to match the robustness of plastics, leading to higher costs and a more complex manufacturing process that demands more energy.

Paper and pulp’s carbon emissions also often exceed those of plastic due to the energy-intensive processes involved in logging, transportation, pulping, bleaching and drying.

Right now, pulp and paper are best suited to products that do not require intensive protection to prolong shelf life. They may be used for foodservice packaging and non-perishable consumer goods. The race to make pulp and paper an effective replacement for plastic continues.

While striving for perfection is impossible, packaging companies are advised to ensure that alternatives to plastic truly are sustainable before jumping the gun.