The circular economy

In a circular economy resources can be used again.

Renewable fresh fibre can be recycled, re-used or bio-degraded.

The world is facing many challenges: population is growing fast, natural resources are decreasing, biodiversity keeps on shrinking and global warming should be tackled. In a circular economy the resources used to make a product are not lost once the product’s life has ended, but can be used again and again.

Transition to a circular economy requires many changes throughout value chains, and the right mix of incentives. One prime example of a material that is already established within a circular economy is renewable fresh fibre, which can be recycled, re-used or bio-degraded.

Recycling

Recycling materials is vital wherever possible, even renewable materials like wood fibres  
 

It is vital to recycle materials wherever possible, even renewable materials like wood fibres. Materials should ideally be recycled close to where they are collected, rather than being shipped to another part of the world.

Board and paper have many advantages in relation to recycling:

  • Consumers can easily identify recyclable board and paper.
  • They are prepared to voluntarily sort and bin paper without a refund or cash incentive.
  • Municipal collections for waste paper are well established in many countries.
  • Paper has been made from waste materials for hundreds of years – so it’s a familiar process.

In Europe, paper and board packaging have the highest rate of recycling when compared to other packaging materials such as glass, metal and plastics.

Biodegradability

Biodegragability  
 

Biodegradation is a process where an organic material degrades by biological metabolism into inorganic components such asCO2 and water. Compostability means that an organic material can be degraded into smaller but still organic elements through the action of organisms or light.

Ideally paperboard should be collected and recycled to keep it within the circular economy, or for use in energy production. But if transport distances do not support other sustainable usage, then biodegradation presents an alternative.

Sometimes packaging materials may end up in the natural environment. Paperboard itself is naturally biodegradable within a time frame of around three months.

Fibre re-use

the recycled fibres can be reused for making board and paper  
 

Paperboard made of fresh fibre is eco-efficient to recycle, and the r​ecovered fibres are suitable for reuse. Mixed with fresh fibres, the recycled fibres can be reused for making board and paper.

However, board and paper are not infinitely recyclable, as fibres eventually lose strength and length after reprocessing for the fourth or fifth time. To keep the recycling loop running, fresh fibres are constantly needed.

As traceability of recycled fibre material is practically impossible, it is best suitable for non-food packaging, where product safety is not crucial.

In addition to board and paper, it is possible to reuse fibres for other purposes, such as building materials and insulants.

Energy use

Energy use  
 

After board has been used as packaging, it can be incinerated or gasified to generate energy. In most cases, however, it is more sustainable to recycle board than to use it for ener​gy generation.

At Metsä Board we use wood fragments discarded during production processes in our own bioenergy plants to supply the power we need to make paperboards, as well as heat for local communities. Currently over 62% of the energy we use in our production consists of renewable bioenergy.

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