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Asos, H&M Seek to Keep Ancient, Endangered Forests Out of Packaging

Plastic isn’t the packaging industry’s only environmental pain point. More than half the paper used globally is for packaging, according to Canopy, a forest-conservation nonprofit based in Canada. Already, three billion trees are pulped to produce 241 million tons of shipping cartons, cardboard mailers, void-fill wrappers and other paper-based packaging every year. With global e-commerce sales projected to skyrocket to $4.5 trillion by 2021, as estimated by Shopify, and the industry making a necessary move away from plastics, that number is expected to double by 2030.

But Earth’s forests, which scientists say soak up to 40 percent of global carbon emissions, are the planet’s principal line of defense against climate change. To ensure that paper-based packaging shifts away from ancient and endangered forests, Canopy decided to launch Pack4Good, a new initiative that aims to curtail the world’s “voracious appetite for packaging” while promoting environmentally friendlier alternatives.

Already, a slate of prominent apparel and footwear brands— including Asos, H&M, Kontoor Brands (which owns Lee and Wrangler), Reformation, Toms and VF Corp.—has pledged their support, which Canopy views as a matter of common sense.

“Nobody wants packaging made with the habitat of endangered species such as orangutans or caribou anymore than they want a plastic box that threatens dolphins,” Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canopy, said in a statement. “That’s why Canopy is partnering with brands on Pack4Good to develop smart solutions that work for business as well as for our planet’s natural systems, climate and species.”

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As part of their membership into Pack4Good, the companies have agreed to design their packaging to “reduce material use“ by the end of 2022. All paper inputs will also be free of ancient and endangered forests and maximized for recycled or tree-free inputs, including fibers from agricultural residues or microbial cellulose.

“We’re committed to reducing the impact of our packaging on the environment and currently use 100 percent recycled material in our paper-based delivery boxes. However, more must be done,” said Tom Byrne, senior sustainability manager at Asos. “Joining Canopy’s Pack4Good Initiative means we can work closely with Canopy, other global brands and packaging producers to foster innovation in packaging design, maximize the use of recycled content across the industry and support the development of circular, next-generation alternatives to current packaging.”

Canopy says that Pack4Good will work “synergistically” with ongoing plastics-reduction efforts to push the packaging industry to develop efficient design and systems and adopt alternative fibers on a commercial scale. The initiative will also push to protect forests that have been devastated by pulp and paper production, including Canada’s Boreal, the Amazon and Brazil and Indonesia’s rainforests.