THE shift from plastic packaging to cardboard or paper, as e-commerce rises, is using up wood. Paper has become the packaging aesthetic of choice. But, green as it may feel, when we carry our shopping home in a quirky paper bag, this is doing its own variety of damage to the planet.

An online event I took part in recently, with the author and forester Peter Wohlleben, made me review my own use of wood products. “As part of the worldwide effort to keep plastic out of the environment,” writes Wohlleben in his book, The Heartbeat Of Trees, a follow-up to his bestselling The Hidden Life Of Trees, “more and more paper and cardboard is being used instead. That spares the oceans, where a huge amount of plastic ends up, but it is hard on forests.”

Wood demand is steadily rising, and at a time when we know that, for the sake of both biodiversity and climate, what we need is older, more mature, mixed forests. Our demand for wood, as Wohlleben puts it, “has grown so fast that it cannot be satisfied through sustainable forestry practices”.

But it’s not only packaging that is in demand, it’s other wood products. Those lovely logs people pt on their rustic-looking wood-burning stoves – they are also part of that demand. Some biomass plants, like the Drax plant in Yorkshire, are using virgin wood, imported in the form of wood pellets from the United States. It purports to be green – but is it really so much greener than the coal power station it replaced? Imports of North American wood fuel to supply British power plants have tripled over the past five years – chiefly because of the conversion of power stations from coal to wood. From bad to only slightly less bad.

Wood is often called a renewable. But it’s not a renewable in the same way wind and sun and tide are. “Using wood,” writes Peter Wohlleben, “is not carbon neutral.” Though when used and burned, there’s a net zero result of carbon dioxide released to that sequestered by the tree itself, a tree is more than itself. Untouched forests contain at least twice the amount of biomass as managed forests.

When trees are cut down, the biomass is depleted, as is the amount of humus on the forest floor. This is because sunlight penetrates and warms the ground, speeding up the activity of fungi and bacteria, consuming the organic components and releasing carbon dioxide. Because that happens in managed forests, Wohlleben believes, “burning wood” is “as detrimental to the environment as burning oil, or coal.” “Our laudable intent to save the environment from drowning under a flood of plastic by using paper instead is unfortunately fuelling destruction of a different kind.”

Plastic has become thoroughly demonised, though that seems to have done little to stem its flow. I’m not defending its use – recent years swimming off our coasts have made me despair at the amount in our oceans and on our shores. But it’s sad to see that the way we save one part of our natural world, seems to be just about shifting burdens. We need to find a route that saves both the oceans and the trees. Human ingenuity is providing fresh answers – a recent article on a farmer in the United States who had developed a paper plant using straw. But more than anything we need to transform our culture away from disposability.

READ MORE: Root intelligence. How German forester Peter Wohlleben changed the way we see trees.

The next time I’m offered a paper bag, I’ll think twice, in the same way I would a plastic one. I don't suggest a halt to e-commerce – after all, it saves on the high CO2 emissions that come with running bricks and mortar shops. But we can campaign for less excess cardboard use in packaging and more regulations around it. And, though it's not a popular message, the truth is that, if we want to save both the sea and the oceans, the answer has to lie in creating a society that buys less and reuses.