Paper Packaging Uses Three Billion Trees a Year

What we’re doing to change that 

We lose three billion trees every year to paper packaging. Lee-Ann Unger, Senior Corporate Campaigner, and head of our Pack4Good initiative discusses what all this paper packaging means for the planet and what we each can do to change it. 

As we head into the holiday season, what are some things you’d like people to know about packaging?

Paper packaging, although often touted as sustainable, can have an incredibly high ecological footprint. As a society, we use huge amounts of packaging. Whether it’s the package we touch or the boxes used behind the scenes that we never see that get goods to a warehouse, for example, it all adds up. What we also don’t see is that ecommerce shopping requires, on average, seven times more packaging. We’re facing an unprecedented time with the global climate and biodiversity crises and keeping forests standing, especially Ancient and Endangered Forests, is more important than ever. 

  • We lose three billion trees every year for paper packaging. This breaks down to: 
    • 250,000,000 trees cut down every month
    • 342,465 trees cut down every hour 
    • 95 trees cut down every second 
  • Three billion trees cut down each year is the equivalent to these areas being cleared each year: 
    • Approximately 2.5 times the size of the state of New York (141,300 km2).
    • Nearly the same size as Germany (357,022 sq km).
    • Approximately the same size as Japan (377,975 km2).
  • If the total amount of trees used for paper packaging each year were stacked end to end, it would wrap around the Earth 1,037 times. 
  • If the total amount of trees used for paper packaging each year were stacked end to end, it would be the equivalent distance of 54 trips from the Earth to the moon and back.

How much carbon (average) do the trees lost for paper packaging represent? 

The logging of three billion trees each year produces approx 2,750,000,000,000 pounds of CO2, equivalent to the CO2 produced by 250,000,000 cars each year.

This is just a small amount less than the same number of passenger vehicles in China (292 million cars by mid-2021), which is the country with the most cars in the world. 

What can people do about it? 

Speak with the companies you’re making purchases from. Let them know you care about forests and want to support solutions. There are alternatives that utilize recycled and post-consumer recycled inputs, as well as innovative fibres, including agricultural waste, to make strong and versatile packaging while taking the pressure off of forests, lowering carbon emissions, and enabling a circular economy. 

So, the first thing you can do is let companies know that you care about the amount of packaging they use and ask them to reduce it. The second is to make them aware that paper packaging has a huge ecological footprint and alternatives are available.  

What makes Pack4Good unique? 

Roughly 60% of paper that’s produced is used for packaging. We’re working with global brands to transform their supply chains and to develop sustainable solutions to ensure that the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests don’t end up as pizza or shipping boxes. 

The United Nations Environment Program states that forests are roughly 30% of the solution to global climate change. Knowing the impact paper packaging has on the world’s forests, we must reduce our packaging and look to alternatives if we’re going to tackle the climate crisis.

What do you find most fulfilling in your work? 

I knew from a young age that working to conserve forests was what I wanted to do. Although I grew up in the city, I’ve always been drawn to animals and forests. Our work at Canopy is a unique model of change and has proven to be very effective. Working with the corporate sector to create collective change results in incredible conservation gains. It helps to scale up the alternatives to paper packaging that reduces pressure on forests. Canopy meets people and brands where they are and works collaboratively towards the change that we need to see.

I live in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia, amongst some of the most awe-inspiring Ancient Forests in the world. I get up every day and see what we’re protecting. Living in a place where you see the incredible interconnection of biodiversity in the natural world, along with the destruction of forests, calls on me every day to work to create change and seek the solutions we need. 

Anything you want to say to Canopy supporters? 

Thank you. Your support and interest and passion in these issues helps create the collective action needed. Everything you do, from talking to companies about packaging, to talking with friends about this work, to contributing your personal resources, it’s all important. You make this work possible. 

What’s your favorite thing about a forest? 

I cannot pick just one thing. The more we learn about the interconnectedness of forests, the more I love them. From the family structures that trees create, to the ways that salmon keep the ocean and forests tied inextricably together. It’s real-life magic.