Bicircularity of the paper industry: Ensuring a sustainable future in fibre based packaging production
01 мар 2022
At the forefront of Government, industry and societal concern alike is the need to create a more sustainable future for all. With dramatic scenes unfolding around the world as climate change becomes evident in more fires, floods and temperature extremes, the focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) production and limiting CO2 emissions is becoming ever more urgent.
Most responsible companies are now committing to reducing their carbon footprint. At Essentra Packaging, we are seeking to reduce our GHG emissions by 30% by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2040. We are also committed to supporting our customers on their journey to net zero by helping them reduce the carbon footprint of their packaging. All of this of course starts with the materials we select to produce our packaging ranges.
Paper industry ‘bicircularity’
Carton board and paper, by their very nature, are renewable. However, the paper industry itself plays an important role in delivering ‘bicircularity’; a term coined by ASPAPEL, the Spanish association of pulp, paper and carton manufacturers, in its 2021 sustainability report ‘The decarbonised circularity of the paper industry.’
First, the paper industry cycle begins with a natural circularity that derives from the renewable nature of the raw material – wood grown on plantations that is used to produce paper and carton board. These plantations provide the raw materials for the bioeconomy of paper, but also work to preserve forests and their biodiversity.
Forests are highly efficient CO2 sinks, storing huge amounts of carbon which then contribute to the generation of soil from the topsoils to the bedrock. In addition, they are an important source of employment for many communities in their management, further supporting social sustainability by providing rural employment.
As such, the paper industry is keen to promote the inordinate benefits of sustainable forest management, including their certification, which includes aspects such as forest health, maintenance, conservation and enhancement of biodiversity and regeneration capacity to prolong the existence of forests over the long term.
To ensure sustainable carton packaging production and support the natural circularity provided by the forestry industry, Essentra only uses carton board and paper from sustainably managed forests accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council® C016627 the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification®, or materials offering certified origin of materials.
Closing the loop
Bicircularity of the paper industry also refers to the end-of-life recyclability of paper and carton products, creating a closed loop of use and renewal. In fact, a recent 2021 study by The Graz University of Technology in Austria has shown that paper, board, carton board and folding boxes can be repeatedly recycled up to 25 times with no loss of integrity.
In the study, the mechanical properties of the material were explored, including its innate strength and crush resistance – key parameters for perfect packaging design. “No negative effect on the mechanical properties in question can be demonstrated in this study. The swelling capacity of the fibre also showed no negative trend”, the University reported.
Winfried Muehling, general manager of Pro Carton – the European association for carton and carton board manufacturers - commented: “The findings resolutely draw a line under the common myth that fibre based packaging can only be recycled four to seven times before it loses integrity.” The study highlights that paper and board fibres are much more durable than previously considered and keenly stresses that the more often a pack can be recycled, the more positive the impact on the environment.
With the current recycling rate for paper and board packaging in Europe now standing at approximately 84.2%, and the European paper industry setting itself a target of 90% by 2030, true bicircularity in the industry is being achieved. Importantly though, virgin fibre will always be required to keep the bicircular business model running.
A mix of virgin and recovered fibre is required for those packaging applications where direct food contact is likely with moist or greasy foods, which can create a risk of migration of contaminants, or for certain premium packaging applications where substrate ‘whiteness’ or stiffness is required, which virgin fibres can provide.
Essentra Packaging: Committed to sustainability
Essentra Packaging is proud to support paper industry bicircularity and the drive toward a sustainable future. As a responsible company with a strong corporate sustainability stance and clear performance indicators and targets, we are conducting a range of strategic actions across the business addressing people and community, energy and climate change, responsible supply chain and responsible resource use.
We seek to operate truly sustainable operations, but importantly support our clients around the world to achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives too. As such, our technical teams work with our clients to ensure the packaging they receive is created with sustainability at the forefront of design.
- We use certified and approved materials and offer recycled materials where appropriate
- We seek to reduce the grammage of materials used wherever possible, analysing designs to assess whether more material is being incorporated than needed and whether the overall carbon footprint of the pack can be minimised through material reduction
- We offer Re*flect, a plastic-free alternative to Metpol, which is 100% recyclable for use on metallised cartons
- Our technical teams work with clients to develop replacement solutions for plastic fitments manufactured from fibre-based materials
- Digital printing is offered at certain Essentra Packaging sites* to enable production responsive to real demand, rather than printing excess materials creating unnecessary waste in some cases