What Kind of Forest Does Your Paper Bag Come From?

What Kind of Forest Does Your Paper Bag Come From?

When plastic bag bans first got started, their intention was to simply get rid of plastic bags. Of course, humans have such a ‘bag habit’ that, when plastic bags were no longer available, they turned to paper bags.

Retailers were more than willing to give away paper bags just to keep customers content. When this happened, and you know the rest, more forests were raided to harvest more trees to make the paper bag.

So in the past two years, to prevent killing more trees, most plastic bag regulations passed by city and county governments require that a fee be charged if a paper bag is provided to the customer. Furthermore, the paper bag cannot be just a paper bag.

Ordinances are now requiring that retailers may only provide a paper bag that is made of recycled content. Even more specifically, the paper bag must contain a minimum amount of recycled content – usually 40%, which means that if the bag contains 40% recycled content – then 60% of the bag is from new trees.

Why does this matter? When the City Council of Austin, Texas was discussing their carry-out bag ordinance, a suggestion was made that the recycled paper bags that a merchant will use be required to have FSC certification rather than SFI certification. This is the first time I have heard this in any plastic bag ban proceeding.

What is FSC and SFI?
FSC is the initials for Forest Stewardship Council and SFI means Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Each organization has established criteria in how each forest must be managed. The common goal of each organization is that forests be managed responsibly and sustainably.

Each forest seeks certification from one of the organizations by meeting the organization’s criteria. (There are actually four of the forestry organizations, but these two are discussed here because they are the names mentioned at the City Council meeting.) Learn more about SFI and FSC.

Certification is highly revered by environmentalist. The seal of one of these organizations placed prominently on a paper bag will prove that the manufacturer, marketer, or purchaser is environmentally responsible.

A Quandary
I am perplexed about two issues that can be raised if plastic bag ordinances place a demand that a paper bag be sourced from a certified forest.

Issue One: FSC is a world-wide organization. Most of their certified forest are not in the US.(1) If a government authority demands an FSC certification, then supply and demand would dictate that some bags will be manufactured from forests that are not in the U.S., thus a foreign-made bag.

Issue Two: How does a manufacturer determine that the recycled content is from a certified forest? I mean, every wood chip is not going to have a certification seal on it nor is there going to be a seal on every piece of a bag that is ground up to be recycled.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I do support certified forests; however, dictating every detail about recycled bags in an ordinance may be going a little far.

Learn More about:

(1) This is both a concern to SFI and a probability according to FSC’s own statistics, as evidenced by FSC’s own 2010 Business Value and Growth market survey (page 6) which found: “Nearly half of respondents have sought out an alternative supplier in another country when FSC certified timber or products were not available in their own country.” From a press release by SFI.

Photo: Forest near Rajgir, Bihar, India. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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