#CircularTuesday: Borrowing a leaf from the pulp and paper industry

paper industry - climateaction

#CircularTuesday: Borrowing a leaf from the pulp and paper industry

The world is struggling with population increase which inevitably means an increase in consumption. This is particularly alarming because we’re currently faced with shrinking natural resources.
To salvage the situation, industries are building circular economies to balance the rising demand for already stretched raw materials.

Since the circular economy is aimed at reducing waste by maximizing resources and products, one could say the pulp and paper industry is well ahead of other industries in the circularity system.

As a matter of fact, the paper industry began tilting towards the circular economy long before circularity went mainstream and this is because paper waste was, and still is, a raw material for a lot of products with different added value.

Paper accounts for a large share of total waste and it is made of cellulose fibers, which are combined with a number of chemicals that determine the properties and quality of the paper. Cellulose is a renewable natural biopolymer that is one of the most important organic compounds in paper and it can be gotten and biosynthesized from bacteria, plants, fungi, wood, and sea animals.

Paper and its waste are easily degradable and recyclable – can be recycled up to seven times, making it one of the most recycled materials in the world. Recyclable waste paper can be used for various usable paper products such as tissue paper, wool for thermal insulation, newspapers, napkins, office and printing paper, envelopes, egg packaging, wallpaper, cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, etc.

The materials that makeup paper waste can also be used as biodegradable alternatives to fossil fuels, and low-calorie sweeteners.

Despite the paper industry’s role as a major contributor to the global economy, it is grappling with a number of factors that are hindering its circular economy potentials.

For starters, global paper consumption has increased by 400 % over the past 40 years and this has led to deforestation because about 35 % of felled trees are used to produce paper.

Also, about 58 % of paper waste is recycled globally on average. Europe has the highest paper
recycling rate in the world while Africa is among the continents that have the lowest recycling rates globally.

By improving the waste recycling infrastructure, countries could achieve a higher percentage of paper recycling but this is constrained by the high demand for paper packaging as well as the increasing demand for packages that are either non-recyclable or complex but paper-based.

Another factor is pricing which is driven by factors such as labor, the initial cost of equipment, transport, raw materials, etc.

In addition, the industry’s environmental impact is a result of the raw materials and processes used in production.

The pulp and paper industry has the advantage of being a leader in promoting the concept of a circular economy but there are still more possibilities to explore. The industry can only succeed when the circularity of waste is prioritized and this can only be achieved through research and innovation.

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