Our key takeaway: “Paper or plastic?” This question comes to many of us at the checkout counter, but it’s not quite as simple a trade-off as it seems. According to NGOs Fern and the Environmental Paper Network, large-scale production and use of paper packaging is contributing to many of the same adverse human rights and environmental impacts as single-use plastics, and shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a less-damaging alternative to plastic packaging. Irresponsible forestry practices and monoculture plantations can cause higher carbon emissions, loss of biodiversity, water depletion, soil erosion, flooding, wildfires and more. The human rights impacts of these environmental issues are serious, especially for vulnerable groups like indigenous peoples, rural land-based communities and human rights and environmental defenders. The report urges companies to think beyond simply switching packaging materials for other options perceived as lower-waste and instead consider how they can reduce overall packaging and paper use in their value chains. Companies can identify and address packaging-linked human rights and environmental risks by conducting robust environmental due diligence along the full value chain—both upstream and downstream. They can also seek to engage closely with suppliers and build leverage with peers to understand where their paper and pulp is coming from and how it’s produced, as well as to influence improvement in practices and provide remedy, where needed.
Fern and the Environmental Paper Network released Unwrapping a Disaster: The Human Cost of Overpackaging (May 2023):