The European Pulp and Paper Industry can be considered one of the bioeconomy beacons of the Old Continent. The Pulp and Paper sector has a high rate of collection and recycling, uses raw materials sourced from European forests and is able to produce new materials capable of replacing, performance being equal, those derived from fossil sources. In the new European waste management panorama, 70% of urban waste will have to be recycled and prepared for reusing, while for packaging materials – such as paper, cardboard, wood, steel, glass and plastic – the target has gone up to 80% by 2030. Today, the paper sector is the closest to this target with a good 71.5% recycling rate, compared to the worldwide average of 57.7%. In Europe, each cellulose fibre is reused 3.5 times, turning from sheet of paper, to packaging and the very magazine containing this article.
“The European paper industry has a very clear vision for its future: leading the transition towards a low-carbon circular bioeconomy,” explains Alexander Kennard, CEPI (Confederation of European Paper Industries) Press and Digital Media Officer. In February 2017, the confederation presented its new 2050 Roadmap with the goal of cutting the whole sector carbon emission by 80% while increasing the economic value of the Pulp & Paper Industry by 50%. A clear step forward towards decarbonisation, able to uncouple economic growth from climate changing emissions, which in any case will need investments for €44 billion. “Let’s take as an examples countries like Italy, where quality recycled fibres are an essential raw material in the paper production: in Europe achieving the circular economy will be crucial in order to carry on this vision and get easier access to recycled fibres and European funds made available for R&D.”
Paper, naturally sustainable
It is also encouraging to see the paper industry and the entire sector committed to reducing CO2 emissions and thus mitigating climate change: the sector has cut its carbon emissions nearly by half (46% compared to 1990) for each tonne of product. Not only that, but ongoing improvements in water management, crucial resource in pulp and paper production, have made it possible to reintroduce into nature 92% of water used in production processes. “Paper is the only material derived from a renewable source and widely recyclable. Essentially, this means that our products – from virgin fibres to recycled ones – capture carbon keeping it in the cycle, something that no other production cycle can do,” continues Ben Alexander Kennard. “Moreover, we must highlight the exponential growth of European forests, in the last decade the forested area has grown by the equivalent of Switzerland. In Sweden for instance, for each cut tree, two are planted. This is not happening by chance, it is because forests owners and other final users have invested in sustainable management. Our vision for the future is to build a truly circular economy able to keep recycled fibres and the carbon they contain in the cycle for as long as possible.”
Target for the future? Increase recycled fibres while reducing economic impacts
“Recycled paper currently represents 54% of raw material in this sector,” explains Kennard. “Obviously, there are limits as far as collection, recycling and reusing are concerned.” But there is still room for improvement; particularly in those European countries where collection is low, for example in France and South-Eastern Europe. “Together with our paper recycling sector partners we have set new ambitious recycling targets: 74% by 2020,” states Kennard.
To achieve this target, less virtuous States must improve: “This is why CEPI is working on the European project called ‘ImpactPapeRec,’ to implement and spread the best practice on paper separate collection to take it to the next level. Secondly, we are working on the reduction or elimination of contaminants along the entire recycling process.” But in order not to be too heavy handed with the industry, CEPI commissioned a study demonstrating how 40% of its profitability has been absorbed by European regulations – it will be necessary to divert new investments, especially to R&D. “Such as the Biobased Industries Joint Undertaking that has allocated €3.7 billion to R&D. Necessary tools to guarantee the transformation of the European industry are there, but they must be better tuned to our programmes.” Only in this way, by the end of this decade, will the Pulp and Paper Industry be able to become a true leader in the European circular bioeconomy.
Biobased Industries, www.bbi-europe.eu