Fairwind Creative works with some amazing sustainable print shops and packaging manufacturers to bring our clients’ products to life! As we mentioned in some other recent articles, the materials you choose for your branded merchandise and marketing materials says a lot about your company’s social ethics. The more we learn about the enormous importance of trees, we are encouraged to seek out alternate materials for printing and packaging. Sustainable print design is the only way forward, and if you care about the environment as much as we do, you need to learn about next-gen fibres! In this article, we will examine some of the environmental benefits of next-gen paper alternatives, and explore some of the sustainable production methods emerging in the fascinating eco-friendly paper industry.
First, let’s talk about eco-friendly paper.
We’ve all heard of recycled paper, so let’s get that topic out of the way first—it’s a great way to minimize your carbon footprint. Post-consumer waste (PCW) in the world of paper is waste that has been printed and distributed publicly, then integrated back into the material stream to create new end user products. This is always a better choice than using virgin tree fibre, as it diverts more waste from landfills and packs more life into products that already consumed previous natural resources to cultivate. Recycled tree fibre paper is generally 10%, 30%, 50%, or 100% post-consumer materials. The higher the recycled content in your paper stock, the more eco-friendly it is. Yay!
Anyway… The paper and cardboard industry is at the heart of the e-commerce market. And being that this industry has a long history of destroying the world’s forests, solutions are needed NOW. Favouring alternative, more eco-friendly paper alternatives helps to control the ecological impact of packaging and integrates e-commerce into the circular economy loop. So today we’re taking this even a step further and exploring the amazing eco-friendly world of tree-free paper!
So, what are next-gen fibres?
Next-generation (or “next-gen”) fibres are defined as being virgin paper made from agricultural waste—such as wheat straw and flax straw—ideally from agricultural products that were produced responsibly, or FSC-certified wood that is not pulled from ancient and endangered forests—essentially, paper with no controlled wood content or controversial sourcing. They are solutions derived from what is usually landfilled (waste textile, waste food scraps) or burned (agricultural residues), to create new fabrics, paper, pulp, and packaging. Next-gen fibre is not grown for the sake of becoming paper; it’s a bi-product of an agricultural product already being grown for another purpose, thus preventing waste.
These solutions help preserve precious forest habitat, reduce carbon emissions, and enable a circular economy. Imagine… commercial-scale production of low-impact and circular clothing, paper, and packaging solutions that don’t rely on pulp from ancient and endangered forests! That’s next-gen, and it’s transformative work demanding focus.
Using eco-friendly paper for e-commerce packaging lowers our dependency on old-growth forests
Using eco-friendly paper materials for e-commerce packaging can be effective in reducing the dependency on old-growth forests. Traditional paper production requires the use of wood pulp, which often comes from trees harvested from old-growth forests. This can have a significant impact on the environment, including deforestation and habitat destruction.
By using eco-friendly paper materials for e-commerce packaging, companies can reduce their reliance on wood pulp and help to conserve old-growth forests. Agricultural waste, non-wood fibres, and recycled materials can all be used to produce paper products without cutting down trees. This can help to preserve natural habitats, protect biodiversity, and reduce carbon emissions associated with deforestation.
Moreover, using eco-friendly paper materials for e-commerce packaging can also provide additional environmental benefits. For example, many eco-friendly paper materials are produced using less water and energy compared to traditional paper production methods. Additionally, using recycled materials for packaging can help to reduce waste and extend the lifespan of existing resources.
Overall, the use of eco-friendly paper materials for e-commerce packaging can be an effective way to reduce the dependency on old-growth forests and promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging practices.
Promote sustainability and reduce dependency on old-growth forests with next-gen and eco-friendly paper packaging
As consumers increasingly demand sustainable products and practices, businesses are turning to next-gen and eco-friendly paper options for e-commerce packaging. These materials offer significant environmental benefits compared to traditional paper packaging, including reduced water and energy use, lower carbon emissions, and less reliance on old-growth forests.
At Fairwind, we are committed to helping businesses promote their sustainable practices and values. One of the common questions we hear is how available these next-gen and eco-friendly paper options are. The good news is that these materials are becoming more widely available as businesses look for ways to reduce their environmental impact. Here are some of the key reasons why next-gen and eco-friendly paper packaging is a great choice for companies looking to reduce their environmental impact:
Using nextgen and eco-friendly paper materials can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources. By repurposing agricultural waste and recycled materials, companies can reduce their reliance on wood pulp and avoid the environmental impacts of traditional paper production.
Durability and performance
Next-gen and eco-friendly paper materials can offer superior performance and durability compared to traditional materials, making them a great choice for e-commerce packaging. These materials are designed to withstand the rigors of shipping and handling, ensuring that products arrive safely and in good condition.
Sustainable packaging is becoming an increasingly important factor for consumers when making purchasing decisions. By using next-gen and eco-friendly paper packaging, companies can engage with customers and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.
Next-gen and eco-friendly paper materials can be cost-effective compared to traditional packaging materials. By repurposing waste materials and using recycled content, companies can reduce their material costs and waste disposal fees.
At Fairwind, we help businesses promote their sustainable practices through effective website design and messaging. By highlighting the benefits of next-gen and eco-friendly paper packaging, companies can attract eco-conscious consumers and build a more sustainable supply chain.
So, if you’re considering making the switch to next-gen and sustainable paper packaging, rest assured that these options are becoming more widely available. By doing so, you can promote sustainability, reduce your environmental impact, and engage with customers who value eco-friendly products and practices.”
Environmental benefits in using agricultural waste as packing instead of burning or landfilling it:
- First, using agricultural waste (or “ag-waste”) as packaging can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the need for burning or landfilling. When agricultural waste is burned or sent to landfill, it can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere (you know, that stuff melting off the polar ice). By using this waste as packaging, companies can avoid these emissions and reduce their carbon footprint.
- Second, using agricultural waste as packaging can help to conserve natural resources, such as trees and fossil fuels, that would otherwise be used to produce traditional packaging materials. This can help to reduce the environmental impact of resource extraction and processing.
- Third, using agricultural waste as packaging can help to reduce waste and extend the lifespan of existing resources. By repurposing ag-waste, companies can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and reduce the need for new materials to be produced.
Finally, using agricultural waste as packaging can help to support local communities and economies by providing a new source of revenue for farmers and other producers.
To measure these benefits, companies can conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) of their packaging materials. An LCA takes into account the environmental impact of a product or process at each stage of its life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. By comparing the environmental impact of using agricultural waste as packaging to the impact of burning or landfilling it, companies can quantify the environmental benefits of their sustainable packaging choices.
Overall, using agricultural waste as packaging can provide significant environmental benefits compared to burning or landfilling. By measuring and communicating these benefits to customers, companies can highlight their commitment to sustainability and help to build a more environmentally responsible supply chain.
How might a brand communicate the value of having chosen a eco-friendly paper option for their business to their customer base?
Communicating the value of choosing eco-friendly paper options to customers can be an important part of a brand’s sustainability and marketing strategy. Here are some ways a brand could communicate this value to their customer base:
Highlight the environmental benefits of using next-gen fibres, such as reduced water and energy use, lower carbon emissions, and less reliance on old-growth forests. Use messaging and visuals that show your brand’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.
Focus on product quality
Next-gen fibres can offer superior performance and durability compared to traditional materials. Highlight these benefits to customers by showcasing the quality and longevity of products made with next-gen fibres.
Many customers may not be familiar with the benefits of using next-gen fibres. Provide educational content, such as blog posts or social media updates, that explain the advantages of these materials and how they align with your brand’s values and mission.
Share the story behind the fibres
Customers are increasingly interested in knowing the story behind the products they purchase. Share information about the sourcing and production processes of the next-gen fibres used in your products, and how they contribute to a more sustainable and responsible supply chain.
Engage customers in the conversation
Encourage customers to be part of the sustainability conversation by sharing their thoughts and feedback on your brand’s use of next-gen fibres. Provide opportunities for customers to participate in sustainability initiatives, such as recycling or carbon offsetting programs.
Overall, effective communication of the value of next-gen fibres requires a clear and compelling message that resonates with your customer base. By highlighting the benefits of these materials and engaging customers in the conversation, brands can build a stronger connection with their audience while promoting more sustainable and responsible business practices.
Current state of next-gen fibres in North America
Next-gen fibres refer to fibres that are developed using advanced technologies and sustainable materials, which can provide significant environmental benefits compared to traditional fibres. Some examples of next-gen fibres include: wheat straw and other cereal straws, flax, recycled textiles, seaweed, food waste, mushrooms, seeds (from vegetables, herbs, and wildflowers), and grass. Once the public begins to show greater interest in these techniques, it will encourage manufacturers to make them more commonplace.
Eco-friendly paper materials are developed using alternative sources such as agricultural waste, non-wood fibres, and recycled materials. These materials have the potential to reduce deforestation and minimize the impact of paper production on the environment.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in next-gen fibres and eco-friendly paper materials in North America, with several companies investing in the development and production of these materials. For example, the Canadian company Canopy Growth Corporation has been working on developing next-gen fibres from hemp. Also, several universities in North America have been conducting research on next-gen fibres and non-tree paper materials, exploring new production methods and materials that can provide superior performance and sustainability.
The development of next-gen fibres and sustainable paper materials in North America is still in its early stages, but there is a growing interest and investment in these materials due to their potential environmental benefits.
Fairwind’s Top 7 Eco-Friendly Paper Picks
- Hemp paper (made from the stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant) has a long history. (Fun fact: William Shakespeare, George Washington, and Vincent Van Gogh all used hemp paper!) Hemp fibres are used to create sustainable and durable fabrics for clothing, accessories, and home textiles. Hemp equires 50% less water than cotton, saving a tremendous amount of water. A hemp crop will produce 200-250% more fibre than cotton in the same space of land. Over the size of an acre, a hemp crop can produce 4 times the amount of paper pulp than a tree. It also takes less bleach and fewer chemicals to colour hemp paper. Hemp paper, like traditional paper, requires the pulping of the fibres into a slurry. This is easier to do using hemp hurds (the wooden core of the stalks). After separating the pulp from other plant matter, the refined pulp is soaked in clean water and pounded into a pulp slurry, then drained, dried, rolled, and cut.
- Seaweed or algae-based textiles: Algae fibres can be transformed into sustainable fabrics suitable for clothing, footwear, and other textile applications.
- Mycelium-based materials: Mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, can be grown and shaped into various products, including packaging materials, building materials, and textiles, offering a renewable and compostable alternative.
- Flax linen: Flax fibres are spun into linen, a natural and sustainable textile known for its durability and breathability.
- Jute textiles: Jute fibre, derived from the stem of the jute plant, is widely used in textiles, packaging materials, and geotextiles due to its strength, breathability, and biodegradability.
- Pineapple leaf fibre (Piñatex): Fibres extracted from pineapple leaves are used to create a leather-like material for accessories, upholstery, and footwear.
- Coconut coir: Coir fibre, extracted from coconut husks, is utilized in various applications such as erosion control mats, geotextiles, and gardening products, providing a sustainable and biodegradable alternative.
Some other eco-friendly alternatives found on the market, while super helpful in combating climate change, not globally recognized as “Next Gen” because they are purpose-grown virgin fibre crop, not one derived from agricultural waste. Therefore, they consume lots of natural resources to produce (like water), and wildlife habitat is often sacrificed for the sake of its production.
- Organic cotton paper is superior in both strength and durability to wood pulp-based paper (which may also contain high concentrations of acids), and it also absorbs ink or toner better. It’s versatile, delicate, tactile, elegant, strong and durable, and for centuries it has been the “elegant” choice for high-class business stationery, wedding invitations, and marketing materials. Traditionally, cotton paper is made using cotton linters (fine fibres which stick to the cotton seeds after processing—not those white fluffy balls, just a tiny fraction of the plant) as the primary material. Once cotton pulp is broken down into slurry, it’s ready to be turned into paper. Organic cotton is of course more sustainable than non-organic, but the way to produce truly sustainable cotton paper is to start with recycled cotton products—textile scraps like t-shirts or jeans. We can all help this process by recycling our old, unusable garments (many communities have such programs), to prevent thousands of tonnes of textiles from ending up in landfills.
- Kenaf fibre: Kenaf is a fast-growing plant that yields long and durable fibres suitable for paper, textiles, and composites. It offers a sustainable alternative to wood-based fibres.
- Banana fibre textiles: Fibres extracted from banana plants’ stems are used in the production of textiles, providing a renewable and biodegradable option. But as we all know, banana trees are tropical and originate in rainforests, so they need a lot of water and plenty of moisture in the air.
- “Sugarcane paper“, or bagasse (sugarcane waste fibre), as delicious as it sounds, is unfortunately derived from intensive and highly polluting production methods, so it doesn’t make the cut as a sustainable fibre. It takes about 210 litres of water to produce 1 kg of sugar cane, so that’s not environmentally sustainable.
- Bamboo forests have enormous positive benefits for the environment, absorbing 2x more carbon dioxide than trees, which is why they are known to act as “carbon sinks”. Bamboo (which is technically a grass) also generates a vast amount of oxygen, totaling up to 30% more than most plants and trees. It has an astounding strength and lifespan while remaining light and easy to transport. Also, pesticides and chemicals aren’t required when harvesting bamboo, and so its cultivation is natural, and never harms the environment. Bamboo also helps protect biodiversity and endangered species by creating homes for a variety of different animals. The important thing to watch out for is where the bamboo is sourced – because of its amazing commercial uses, some countries have been known to clear old-growth forests in order to plant bamboo, which has terrible repercussions, as old-growth trees are the ones we need to help combat climate change. Bamboo fibre can be used in a variety of applications, including textiles, paper, and other sustainable products. Its fast growth, low water requirements, and minimal need for pesticides contribute to its eco-friendly characteristics.
- Recycled nylon: Fibres derived from post-consumer nylon waste, such as fishing nets or carpet fibres, are transformed into new textiles, reducing resource consumption.
- Stone paper is created by repurposing construction waste like calcium carbonate or limestone, and is then mixed with high density polyethylene resins, or HDPE. Sure, it saves trees, but these are not the best substances to be messing around with, or mixing in with an otherwise circular economy.
- Recycled polyester: Fibres derived from post-consumer plastic bottles or other polyester waste, reducing the demand for virgin polyester production. While it’s often good to find a second life for materials, rather than letting them end up in landfills, chemicals present in some plastics, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, can damage the environment, and can do long-term harm to the health of humans and animals. Like polyethylene, this is more stuff we shouldn’t be disturbing more than we already are. To us, this doesn’t cut it as next-gen.
- Agave! Yes, you can even make paper from agave leaves! (You know, the stuff they make tequila out of! Mmmm… ) After removing all the thorns, agave leaves must be “retted” for one month – that’s the process that papermakers in the olden days used to break down fibers, by submerging materials in water and allowing them to decompose under controlled circumstances. As you can imagine, it smells frightful. However, agave, being a desert plant, does not require much water to grow. And being that the production of tequila won’t likely stop anytime soon, and the plant will be grown anyway… is it next-gen? Fairwind leans that way (by the way, leaning is a common result of too many tequila drinks), however the agave plant is not [yet] considered “next-gen” as it does not possess the same qualities as the preferred materials, like increased strength and flexibility. Shucks.
Have thoughts to share?
Thank you for reading our article! We are here if you have any questions about sustainable print design and the many eco-friendly options available to you as an environmentally conscious business owner. Let’s do some amazing work together! We encourage you to read our other blog posts. Reach out anytime!
- Agricultural Waste as a Sustainable Packaging Material, Dr. Pawan Kumar, International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (2021)
- Sustainability and Environmental Impact of Traditional and Next Generation Packaging Materials: A Comparative Study, Shuichi Yamamoto, et al., International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2021)
Durability and Performance
- Next Generation Paper for E-Commerce Packaging by Upal Ghosh and Jerilyn Roberts, TAPPI Journal (2021)
- Assessing the Effectiveness of Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Packaging Materials for Food Packaging: A Review, Sarengaowa and Hongyan Li, Journal of Food Quality (2020)
- Packaging and branding: How packaging design influences consumer purchasing behavior, Ana E. Maldonado, Journal of Business Research (2017)
- Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective, Chien-Huang Lin and Mei-Jane Chan, Sustainability (2019)
- Life Cycle Assessment of a Paper-based E-commerce Packaging System, Qiming Yang, et al., Journal of Cleaner Production (2020)
- Assessing the Economic Feasibility of Switching to Biodegradable Packaging in the Food Industry, by Li Li and Chengyan Yue, Sustainability (2018)