In May, it is here: Innventia’s new Global Outlook Report: A Cellulose-Based Society. But how do we view its predecessor, two years later? Let’s take a look at some of the trends from Papermaking Towards the Future – with a view to the future.
When I look back on our previous Global Outlook Report, it is difficult to highlight just a few specific things. Everything is so interesting! There we highlighted nine trends that we could identify and three different scenarios for the future.
However, looking at the trends is particularly interesting prior to the release of our third report. What do these trends look like today? And how have they influenced our continued research work? Here, above all, I would like to mention two of them.
Resource-Efficient Processes is one trend. This relates to the fact that resource-efficient production is more important than ever. The fact that the paper industry is costly in terms of resources is nothing new in itself, with production costs linked to resources such as water and energy. But now, there is a major trend where instead the fibres have become the focus – they are “the key player”. If we can recycle them as efficiently as possible, we can significantly improve resource efficiency. This was – and remains – so important because the cellulose itself is a raw material with a high value.
Then we have the trend of the Increasing Value of Waste. This is actually a significant trend; today it is an established fact that people want to recycle and reuse as much as possible. This includes recycled fibres, which have almost as high a value as new fibres – and that is very interesting.
This trend manifests itself in line with the growing demand for paper in Asia and the increasing production there. Especially in China, but also in India, there is not the same access to fibres as we have in Scandinavia, North America and Brazil.
But now it is not just about recycling paper or wood fibres. There are also many recycling initiatives in other industries, such as the textile industry and the plastics industry. All this is in pursuit of a circular economy, which is also the foundation of our new report.
For this to work, a brand new way of thinking is required all around the world. We humans can no longer simply think about “buying” things. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that you will still buy a shirt or a package, for instance. But you will not actually own the material itself; the circular economy will. You will only “borrow” it – and that’s the way we’ll have to think. You borrow it because it absolutely has to go back to be reused – again and again in a cycle. I think that is a pretty cool idea!
This awareness already exists, as is shown by another of the trends in Papermaking Towards the Future: Product Safety and Risk Aversion. This is where we talk a lot about product safety and the increasing awareness on the part of both the consumer and the manufacturer.
Within the paper industry, for instance, we have the issue of oil migration. There are actually hazardous chemicals in printed paper that may remain in the fibres when they are recycled. If these come into contact with food packaging they could pose a risk, and that is something that people have become very aware of. Products made from recycled fibres must, therefore, meet increasingly stringent demands.
What I find interesting, linked to this, is that it is not just about products and people. It’s about something bigger: the sustainability of the world and global warming. Even here, we see that people are very aware and we also raised that as a driving force in our previous report. There we talked about a Rising Global Urban Middle Class, a large number of well-educated people moving to the cities, very aware that we need to look after not just our bodies, but also the earth.
In the previous report we also talked about the concern that the paper industry was facing a skills shortage for the future: that new, young talents would not choose an industry they regarded as “traditional and boring”.
But now, on the contrary, we can see that the paper industry is at the cutting edge, both in terms of innovations and conditions for a circular economy. Sure, we have seen a decrease in demand for printed paper. That is no longer a trend, but an established fact. But what has this trend led to? Well, it has forced the industry to look for new products and new uses for its existing infrastructure.
What the industry can do now is to take the paper industry one step further, producing paper-like materials and combining them with new, unique functions. For instance, there will be textile-like packaging, self-opening packaging and packaging integrated with electronics or sensors. I think this is incredibly cool! With these new products, the paper industry will be interesting for those who want to engage in both environmental promotion and cool innovations. They can do both things at the same time!
So, the future for the paper industry looks promising. There is no question of it being a “sunset industry”; quite the opposite. We will take all this with us during the exciting developments of the next few years.
Paul Krochak, Innventia