Fiber Packaging

The global pulp and paper industry uses around 40 percent of all wood harvested for industrial use. In some regions, expansion of harvesting and production of pulpwood threatens forests, increasing biodiversity losses, social conflict, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. 

This brief provides a summary of the main environmental and social factors that affect the production of fiber-based packaging made from virgin pulpwood; while its focus is global, it spotlights key players in the U.S. value chain and provides examples of actions being taken by companies operating or headquartered in the U.S.


  • In some regions, expansion of harvesting and production of the pulpwood used to produce packaging threatens forests and their communities. Impacts include loss of biodiversity, social conflict, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Companies are reducing risks by ensuring pulpwood is sourced from verified legal sources and sustainable forest operations, increasing the recycled content of their products and ensuring clean production.
  • Investors should address business risks through direct engagement with their portfolio companies and by supporting relevant policies and multi-stakeholder collaborations.
  • Fiber-based packaging is made from a renewable material and is technically recyclable. However, all the impacts across a product’s and package’s supply chain should be considered when making packaging decisions as there are tradeoffs among different types of packaging materials.

Environmental and Social Factors that Drive Risks

Commodity Background

Boxboard made with primarily virgin wood pulp is often used for beverage cartons, frozen food packaging and candy boxes. Boxboard may be made with a high proportion of recycled content, which is typically used as packaging for dry foods such as cookies and crackers, cereal and cake mixes.  

Top Production Regions

China and the U.S. are by far the largest producers of wrapping, packaging paper

and paperboard, accounting for nearly half of global production.


Supply Chain

The largest US suppliers of fiber-based packaging represent a significant share of the market.

Based on tonnes of paper and board produced in 2014, the three largest publicly traded U.S.-based companies were:

• International Paper (22.5 million tonnes)

• West Rock (10.9 million tonnes)  

• Packaging Corporation of America (4.3 million tonnes)  



Company Examples

International Paper

 International Paper has committed by 2020 to a 35 percent increase in third-party certified fiber volume. With respect to water quality, it set a goal to reduce mill wastewater discharges of oxygen-depleting substances (BOD) by 15 percent by 2020.


Mars has committed to use certified, verified or recycled sources for 100 percent of its pulp and paper-based packaging by the end of 2020. 


McDonald’s set a goal, by 2020, to use certified or recycled sources for 100 percent of its fiber-based packaging (such as hot cups, carry out bags and clamshells). Its approach focuses on optimizing product design, increasing the use of recycled or certified raw materials, and encouraging use of packaging with viable end-of-life options.