Perhaps Indigo publisher and CEO Heather Reisman should stick to something she knows something about. She clearly doesn’t know much about forest and paper issues if her recent coffee-table book is anything to go by. It’s so loaded with false and misleading claims about forestry, paper, and packaging that it’s hard to cover them all. Here’s my response to just some of them:

  1. Clearcutting: Clearcutting is not evil. In fact, Reisman’s own home and every Indigo store probably exist because of a clearcut. They may not be pretty, but neither is a forest taken out by fire, wind, or insects and beetles. And, in fact, all three of the recognized independent certifiers of sustainable forest management in Canada acknowledge that clearcutting is consistent with their standards when used in the right forest eco-system.
  • Indeed, a group of Canadian forest companies and leading environmental groups recently committed to move towards implementing a new clearcutting harvesting pattern called natural range of variation (NRV). It mimics the natural disturbance dynamics of the forest (fire, wind, and pests) and is currently being implemented across the boreal. In a press release, environmental group ForestEthics (now Stand) was supportive of this new clearcutting technique, saying it was ‘’pleased to see steps being taken towards timber harvesting that more closely mimic nature.’’[i]
  1. ’Centuries-old forests’’: Sorry folks, but the great majority of Canada’s forests (spruce, poplar, pine) are relatively young, aged between 41 and 120 years old, with most of them in the 81 to 100-year range. Not exactly ‘centuries old.[ii] As for the boreal, only 1% of its trees is over 200 years old. Yes, one per cent! Check it out for yourself![iii]  This ‘centuries old’ and ‘ancient’ crap is a regular slam against the forest industry and you should not be sucked in by it.
Boreal Chart showing forest and paper issues a lie
  1. ‘’Three billion trees are logged for packaging alone every year’’: Reisman doesn’t give sources for any of her claims in the excerpt I saw (which is a failing in itself) but this is someone’s global guestimate, not an estimate for the US or Canada. In fact, the US says it currently has 356 billion trees so that puts Reisman’s three billion into some perspective. And that’s only the US, not the rest of the world.[iv]
  • As for Canadian packaging, “cardboard boxes, shoe boxes, boxes for beauty products, and so much more” do not come from “ancient and endangered forests.” They come from old used boxes collected from the back of supermarkets, from offices, and from Canadian homes. Most of them are 100% recycled content. And Reisman conveniently fails to mention the other side of the ledger: that new trees are planted to help successfully regenerate any forest area that’s been harvested. This is provincial law in Canada. And to help achieve this regeneration of a renewable resource, about a thousand new tree seedlings are planted in a forest somewhere in Canada every minute. Reisman gives only one side of the story.
  1. Toilet paper is ‘‘contributing to an unsustainable loss of trees, including the boreal forest of Canada’’:  Give me a break! This is a gross, Trumpian-like exaggeration. A mere 0.16% of the boreal is harvested every year (yes, a mere 0.16%) and most of that is for lumber to build houses, hospitals, schools (and the occasional Indigo store). What’s left over (wood chips, shavings, sawdust) is certainly used for other purposes (to supply energy to a mill and to the local community and to make paper products). How much ends up as toilet paper? Less than 5% of all wood pulp and less than 1% of total harvested wood, according to the Forest Products Association of Canada. And any harvested area is regenerated either naturally or artificially afterwards. That’s the law.
  1. Paper materials that are challenging to recycle are unrecyclable and end up in landfill: Just because some materials are challenging doesn’t make them unrecyclable. Cereal and shoe boxes (boxboard) have been recycled in Canada for 30 years now! In fact, 94% of Canadians can recycle them today. The rest can be composted. Soiled pizza boxes are not a problem either. And milk cartons are also recyclable in a mill that has the special equipment to do so (a hydrapulper).
  1. Post-consumer paper is more ‘sustainable’ than pre-consumer: Rubbish. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. In fact, they are really the same material with the same environmental production inputs. The only difference is that they come back to a recycling mill from a different place. Indeed, it could be argued that pre-consumer has a lower environmental impact because it travels a shorter recycling loop back to the mill.

Based on these and other false and misleading claims, Reisman and co-author Laurie David conclude that modern paper use is ‘wildly unsustainable.’ With all due respect, I would suggest their conclusion is wildly inaccurate. Unlike most other countries, Canada has retained more than 90% of its original forest cover.[v] It also leads the world in the amount of forest that’s certified by independent third parties as being sustainably managed. Almost three times more than any other country![vi]

If Reisman and David really want to be taken seriously, I strongly suggest they get their facts straight first. No more pulp fiction please!

[i] Executive Director Todd Paglia of ForestEthics in FPAC press release “FPAC commits to new forest management approach to mimic elements of nature,’’ FPAC, January 14, 2016.

[ii] National Forest Inventory, Table 14.0 Area (1000 ha) of forest land by species group and age class in Canada

[iii] National Forest Inventory Table 5.2 Area (1000 ha) of forest land by forest type, age class and boreal zone in Canada          

[iv] US Forests at a glance

[v] Calculation by the Forests Products Association of Canada based on data from the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Natural Resources Canada;