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A misleading comparison: plastic against paper

/ 08:47 PM March 20, 2012

The recent attempt by the local plastic industry to pit plastic against paper—alleging that the ban on plastic bags has increased the use of paper, and that paper is more unfriendly to the environment because its production entails the cutting of trees—is misleading.

First, local ordinances banning plastic bags do not stipulate the use of paper bags. In fact, it promotes the use of reusable containers. Second, paper, as a container, cannot only come from trees but also from other fibrous materials. And third, containers cannot only be made out of paper.

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Plastic bags in the Philippines are not being reprocessed. It is a petrochemical and non-renewable. It has a total carbon footprint of about six kilos carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilo of plastic.

Paper’s carbon footprint is nearly one kilo CO2 per kilo of paper. While it’s true that trees release CO2 when felled for timber and paper, the global industry practice makes it nearly carbon neutral by way of re-growth and recycling. In fact, European forests have grown by over 30 percent since 1950.

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To illustrate, Finland has since the 16th century been leading global industry for forest products. If the argument of the local plastic industry is to be believed—that a kilo of paper equals more environment degradation—then Finland should be the most barren nation on earth today. On the contrary, Finland has about 70 percent forest cover to date.

Biomass energy is produced by the pulp and paper industry by burning wood and waste materials from the pulping process to provide energy for the manufacturing process itself. Often, excess heat and power are sold to the local community. This process maintains a closed carbon cycle as opposed to burning fossil fuel, on which the plastic industry is based.

The paper industry has a number of globally respected certification schemes ensuring that the paper would come from a sustainable forest source. The two main auditable certifications that have emerged are the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

In the Philippines, market leader United Pulp and Paper Co. Inc. is an eco-labeled company. As a recipient of the Green Choice Philippines label, the company is able to claim that its products are environment friendly. The company uses 100-percent recycled paper.

As long as the local plastic industry maintains the “it’s-not-my-fault” posturing, even granting that we would eventually be forced to reuse plastic bags or penalized for littering, the plastic bag menace will persist as we would run out of space holding them in our domiciles.

It’s true that unabated deforestation causes floods. But excessive rains and unpredictable climate patterns are the effects of global warming caused mostly by burning fossil fuel. And after the inundation, we see tons of used plastic bags littered all around, whose recycling and reprocessing should have long been enforced as a moral responsibility.

—RENE D. PINEDA JR.,

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member of the board,

Ecolabeling Program of the Philippines,

rene.publicist@gmail.com

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