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Some really deep thoughts on the meaning of life, and paper

One of the interesting similarities between the life cycle of paper and that of the human species is that as we get older we become progressively weaker and wear out. Sorry for being the “bad news” guy today! But at some point, we need to be replaced by a fresh infusion of younger and stronger (virgin) material in order to perpetuate the species.

It’s the same with paper fibres. The more they are recycled, and technically that’s between four and nine times, the weaker they get, until eventually they have to be replaced.

This blending of young and old, of virgin and recycled, is necessary to keep the whole species (human and paper) going. You need both to survive. So while “recycled” is good, and should be extended for as long as possible, inevitably it must be replaced, somewhere in the system.

Governments and packaging users need to keep this in mind when pushing for higher and higher levels of recycled content in paper packaging. Not that this is a problem in Canada where most boxes and cartons are already 100% recycled content. But at some point, somewhere in the paper cycle, that recycled material has to be replaced with fresh virgin fibres. We can’t ignore the fact that we need it, and that we must have it to survive. Just like humans.

The key is to strike a balance that works.

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John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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