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6 Eco-Friendly Paper Alternatives for Your Brand Launch

As a conscious business owner, you likely already know this! Avoiding plastic packaging or setting an annual environmental goal for your office to reach are great places to start.

But when you really start to consider the papers, inks, print methods, supply chains and materials used to bring your brand to life, can you confidently say they’re all eco-friendly? Or better yet, zero waste?

If your answer to those questions is no, don’t fret. Most small business owners are in the same boat.

At Little Ghost Creative, we’ve made it our mission to inform our clients about the simple sustainable alternatives to paper available to them…which is why we're sharing this post!

In this article, we’ll outline what we’ve learned about using eco-friendly paper stock in your marketing efforts. We'll walk you through the dirty truth behind the environmental impact of paper and what you can look for to ensure you’re making the right purchasing decisions.

So here are six sustainable alternatives to tree-based paper that will allow you to produce low-impact and harm-free marketing assets. Plus, we’ve included our favourite sustainable printers you can pair with them.

This Post Covers:

The environmental impact of traditional paper stock

Whether you’re printing business cards, posters or brochures, the print shop you’re working with will ask you what paper stock you’d like. And while selecting the premium option may look the prettiest, it’s likely the most harmful to our planet.

How Paper Hurts the Environment

Trees are the most commonly used material for traditional paper stock.

‍Though trees are a renewable resource, our world consumes approx. 400 million tons of paper each year, which is said to account for 70% of global warming.

Papers are often coated for a glossy or matte finish.

‍This is done by adding polyethylene to the paper, making it difficult to break down during the recycling process.

The paper stock your local print shop carries was likely transported from miles away.

‍Your paper stock may have travelled hundreds to thousands of miles to get from the mill to the print shop.

Of course, paper stock made from other resources will need to be transported too, but you may be able to find a locally grown resource that does not require long transit to the client.

All this to say, selecting a tree-free paper stock is an easy way to reduce your brand’s carbon footprint without adding much additional cost or effort to your marketing plans.

Did You Know There are microplastics in most traditional paper stocks?

It’s an unfortunate truth that microplastics are found on paper with a PET or plastic polymer coating and they are extremely harmful to our oceans and waterways. To avoid it, don’t purchase any paper stock that has the words polypropylene or polyethylene on its label.

What to know when choosing recycled paper

To keep things simple, start with this: recycled paper is always a safe choice. Always!

Recycled paper is also often the cheapest and most accessible choice for small brands. Look for the label PCW (post-consumer waste), which guarantees the paper was previously recycled.

Three Ways Paper Stock is Considered “Recycled”

It’s also important to note that there are three different ways paper stock is considered “recycled”:

  1. The material itself is recyclable.
  2. The paper is made from 100% recycled material.
  3. The paper is made partially from recycled material.

Don’t be afraid to ask your local print shop questions about what category their recycled paper stock falls into.

7 sustainable paper certifications to watch for

1. Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) is a global not-for-profit organization that sets the standard for responsibly managed forests worldwide, both environmentally and socially. Paper that has the FSC label on it indicates that the trees have been harvested in a responsible manner.

2. Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance works with producers, manufacturers and consumers who are committed to protecting biodiversity, conserving resources for the good of the planet and future generations, and ensuring that workers, their families and communities are treated well.

Paper that has the little green frog label on it indicates it was produced using three key pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.

3. Ancient Forest Friendly

The Ancient Forest Friendly™ designation and logo from Canopy represents the highest ecological qualities in the paper industry. Ancient Forest Friendly pulp and paper is free of ancient or endangered forest fibre, made with 100% recycled or agricultural fibre paper and is whitened without chlorine.

4. Green-E

Green-E paper certification can only be applied to paper that is manufactured at mills which use 100 per cent certified renewable energy, including electricity created by wind, solar, biomass or run-of-river sources. Pretty impressive!

5. Processed Chlorine Free

Recycled papers are typically "processed-chlorine-free" (PCF), which means that no chlorine or chlorine derivatives were used in the recycling process. However, recycled papers that were originally bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives may have been used as feedstock.

6. BioGas

BioGas certification indicates that the paper was made using a closed-loop system. In other words, BioGas comes from decomposing landfill organic waste that’s been captured to prevent its release into the air. In this case, it’s used to create paper.

7. Zero Waste

Zero Waste Certified indicates that the entire lifecycle of paper — including everything from forest to mill to transportation to production and recycling — emitted zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at every step of the way.

6 sustainable alternatives to paper stock

We've rounded up the six most common, affordable and sustainable tree-free alternatives to paper stock.

These options consist of either quick-growing annual crops that can be harvested within one year of growing or are made of renewable recycled resources. Take your pick for your next print project!

1. Hemp Paper

Hemp-based paper is one of the best alternatives you can find for traditional paper. Hemp is an extremely sustainable crop to grow in Canada. In fact, it requires much less water to grow compared to other major conventional crops, such as corn, wheat and soy.

Hemp is also fast growing—a crop of hemp can reach maturity in as little as 90 days. Another factor that makes hemp a sustainable crop is that the entire plant can be used for an array of applications, including food, biofuel, bioplastics and paper!

Hemp-based paper offers a high-quality finish that is similar in look to traditional uncoated tree-paper. It can sometimes have an organic look to it and you might see some of the hemp fibres within the paper. I suggest using hemp-based paper for assets like business cards or product labels.

2. Straw Paper

Straw-based paper is made from reclaimed or scrapped straw and wheat from farming and agricultural activities. Using straw for paper is extremely environmentally friendly as it negates the need to burn the crop.

Straw crops are usually burned to prepare the field for the next cycle, but reclaiming the straw and turning it into paper eliminates this!

Straw-based paper can be used for various print projects, but we like to use it specifically for larger marketing pieces where the texture of the paper can stand out. Think of a sales booklet or branded postcard. The colour of straw-based paper is a creamy yellow with a defined texture.

3. Cotton Paper

Cotton-based paper is made from recycled textile scraps, like jeans and t-shirts.

Cotton is one of the most environmentally demanding crops. It requires tons of water to grow and is soil degrading because of the high concentration of pesticides it requires to fulfil the demands of the fashion industry. But when you recycle cotton into paper, it removes it from the landfill, eliminating waste. Paper is a fantastic way to recycle cotton!

Cotton-based paper is said to have a thick texture and has been compared to the thickness of a dollar bill. We recommend trying cotton-based paper for unique packaging solutions and business cards.

Alternative fibres are a beautiful way to elevate a project while also creating a design asset that becomes a conversation starter.

4. Bamboo Paper

Bamboo-based paper is not the most sustainable paper alternative. It requires an intensive chemical process to convert it from bamboo into paper (similar to tree-based papers) and is a contributor to deforestation when harvested industrially.

With that being said, bamboo is an extremely fast-growing crop and can grow on degraded land. So, if you are choosing a bamboo-based paper alternative, be sure to do your research first and choose a brand that has eco-conscious values.

Bamboo-based paper is lightweight, has a smooth texture and is slightly off-white. We like to use it to put a unique spin on business cards or greeting cards.

5. Seed Paper

Seed-based paper is a special eco paper made from recycled paper waste embedded with seeds. This means you can actually plant seed-based paper into your garden and watch it grow into flowers, herbs or vegetables. So cool!

It’s a 100% zero-waste paper alternative as the paper is biodegradable and made from recycled materials.

Seed paper often has a really organic look to it as you can actually see the seeds within the paper. It offers a really creative solution for key brand touchpoints like business cards, thank you cards or brochures.

Offering your customers a business card made from seed-based paper easily showcases your conscious brand values and encourages your consumers to take their own green action, too.

6. Stone Paper

If this is the first time you’ve heard of stone-based paper, I’m not surprised! It’s a fairly new alternative to traditional paper stock that is non-toxic and biodegradable. Stone paper is made from calcium carbonate or limestone. It doesn’t use any water, chlorine or acids to be produced.

However, there is some controversy surrounding whether stone-based paper really is as environmentally friendly as some providers say because it relies on a source of petroleum for production.

All this to say, stone paper still reduces the use of many other resources typically required to produce tree-based paper. And it can be recycled indefinitely!

The texture and feel of stone-based paper is very unique. It’s extremely smooth and is thicker than any other alternative paper. It’s also extremely durable and waterproof. It would make fantastic pages in a notebook or notepad.

5 eco-friendly printing companies to rry

Now that you know all about the great, eco-friendly tree-paper alternatives out there, you’re probably wondering where to print. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!  

Here are five sustainable printing companies we love to use for client work and Little Ghost projects.

1. Jukebox

Jukebox is our favourite printing brand for high-quality print products and sustainable papers. They are a great alternative to VistaPrint! They offer a range of paper alternatives, like cannabis, bamboo and various recycled options. Jukebox is a Canadian-based company, but offers printing solutions to customers around the world.

2. Noissue

Noissue is an eco-friendly, custom packaging brand made with materials that fit one or more of the following frameworks: Compostable, Recycled or Reusable. Alongside their sustainable packaging options, they also offer everything else your products might need like eco-friendly tissue, labels and tape.

3. Botanical Paperworks

Botanical Paperworks is Winnipeg’s local source for plantable seed paper. They offer a wide variety of different seed-type papers to choose from. Their paper is approved by the CFIA and the USDA for planting in the U.S., Canada, European Union and many other countries worldwide.

4. Bloomin

Bloomin is another great seed paper option based in the U.S. We often recommend Bloomin to my American clients and love that they use water and corn-based inks for printing. They have a large variety of seed papers to choose from as well as seed-based confetti!

5. Hemlock Printers

Hemlock is one of the largest and most recognized printing companies in North America, operating in a carbon-neutral 80,000-square-foot facility. They’re based in Burnaby, BC, Canada and offer a huge range of sustainable print options.

They are also one of the only printers offering Zero Carbon Neutral print solutions, meaning you can neutralize emissions from forests, mills and recycling while still printing beautiful branded assets.

Eco-Designer Pro-Tip:

When in doubt if a paper choice is a sustainable option, you can refer to the Canopy EcoPaper Database, which includes a list of global eco paper suppliers that pass their strict guidelines.

Sustainable design choices are paving the way for a better future. And with dozens of alternative paper stock options to choose from, you don’t have to sacrifice high-quality design for an eco-conscious output. You can have both!

Not only does choosing an alternative paper stock showcase your brand’s commitment to our planet, but it also builds trust with your customers.

Is an eco-friendly paper stock the right fit for your project?

So what do you say? Is an alternative paper stock the right fit for your next project? We think it should be, and we’d love to help.

Whether you’re launching a new brand or looking to refresh an existing one, at Little Ghost Creative we help you assess how we can create a zero-waste design solution that aligns with your brand’s conscious values.

Tell us more about what you’re working on and we’ll craft you a beautiful (and ethical) brand solution.

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