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The increasing value of waste – a trend towards a circular economy

Publicerad 2015-02-06


What are we doing to address rising production costs and the shortage of raw materials?
The answer is recycling. There is enormous potential value here, as shown by one of the trends we noted in our Papermaking Towards the Future report.

But that’s not enough. Recyclability is increasingly becoming a factor right from the design stage, and thus a requirement for one of the hottest trends right now: a circular economy.

As you are no doubt aware, the regulations regarding emissions are becoming ever stricter, while at the same time there is less access to raw materials. One way of dealing with this is, of course, more efficient production. However, investing in systematic recycling is just as important.

More and more companies are now seeing the value of recycling materials. This is a way of both boosting profitability and achieving greater sustainability. 

RecycleIn Papermaking Towards the Future, we asked our experts which property will be the most desirable for paper in the next ten years. Around 30 percent said recyclability. When asked to predict the most important shortage in terms of resources, the answer was recycled fibres.

Europe certainly boasts the highest level of paper recycling, largely thanks to the 2011 European Declaration on Paper Recycling. The level of recycling in Europe rose to 71.7% in just one year -  we have actually already reached the target originally set for 2017. 

However, there is still a shortage of recycled fibres and these are in high demand – not least in Asia, where China is the biggest importer. The effects of the Western World’s lower production of printing and writing paper – an important source of recycled fibres – can be seen clearly here.

Products made from recycled fibres must also meet increasingly tough demands.
As well as being functional, they must also be safe and be produced more efficiently. And ideally with a focus on ecodesign! There are already successful examples of this, such as products produced by companies including IKEA and McDonald’s. However, much more still remains to be done. For example, did you know that a single fibre can be used up to seven times?

Achieving a circular economy requires products to be designed for recycling from the outset, with high quality in a technical/biological circular flow. Production and transportation should then use renewable fuels. 

Recycle binsHere, nothing is wasted unnecessarily – in contrast with the linear economy based on ‘produce, consume, discard’. Instead, the worn out product returns to the starting point – to the producer and nature. The circle is closed.

But can a society ever be entirely waste-free? Yes. This might sound like a utopia, but it could become a reality within the next few years. Society’s greater environmental awareness is already leading to climate-neutral methods and – in the long term – additional legislation. A waste-free society is therefore a vision to work towards, spurring us on to develop new packaging, services and business models. Industry will also have a greater responsibility as the actual ‘owner’ of a product, during both the first and the final stages of its life cycle.

In any case, we in the paper industry can make a difference. The time is ripe – more so than ever before – in view of both facts and trends. The most important thing now is to focus on better collection and sorting, ecodesign and more efficient handling and processing of recycled fibres. Which is precisely what we’re doing at Innventia!  

We believe that forestry is the key to Sweden becoming part of the growing circular economy. As noted previously, biobased materials offer so many opportunities. These opportunities are so great and almost unlimited that we actually have the chance to take the lead! How? We’ll explain more in future blog posts…

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Innventia Paper Blog

There are currently all manner of exciting developments going on within papermaking. Both the industry and the world around us face dramatic changes – an evolution towards a bioeconomy in which more and more materials can be replaced with forest products.

Innventia's papermaking blog will keep you updated on current activities and discuss future possibilities.