PHOTO: PETER KNUTSON
In the general environmental debate, virgin fibre from the forest is often set against recycled fibre, even though they are parts of the same eco-cycle. Both are needed to make sustainable paper products.
THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE 46 FROM 2014
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY presupposes that resources are used responsibly. For a paper or paperboard to also be the right quality for its purpose, the raw material must have flexibility and strength. Despite its compact size, wood fibre makes it possible to meet both these requirements.
Wood fibre is only a few millimetres long and derives from the forest, which makes it renewable. As trees grow they form wood fibre in a process called photosynthesis, which is powered by the sun.
After its first use, wood fibre can be recycled in new products up to six or seven times before it is too old to bind to other fibres – a necessary quality in a functioning paper product.
“There is plenty of forest in the Nordic countries and relatively few people, so here pulp, paper and paperboard are mainly made from virgin fibre,” says Johan Granås, Iggesund’s product manager for Invercote, who is heavily involved in the company’s environmental work.
“The rest of Europe is more densely populated with fewer forest resources, and as a result paper production there is based more on recycled paper.”
HOWEVER, VIRGIN FIBRE plays a crucial role in the whole European eco-cycle for paper raw materials.
Since the fibres eventually wear out, the system must continuously be replenished with virgin fibres from the forest.
“The addition of Nordic pulp and paper products made from virgin fibre is crucial to continued production,” Granås explains.
“Virgin and recycled fibre are both needed to optimise the use of resources on the entire European market.”
MOST COUNTRIES HAVE well-established systems for collecting newspapers and paperboard, making paper Europe’s most extensively recycled material, he points out.
“It’s an efficient way for the companies involved to exploit forest resources and utilise wood fibre several times over,” he says.
“It also has considerable environmental and climate benefits.”
THE LONG LIFE OF FIBRE
Wood fibre can be recycled in several stages before it is worn out. Here are some examples of products, on a sliding scale from 100 percent virgin fibre to 100 percent recycled fibre.
Clean virgin fibre is used in packaging for pharmaceuticals, food and exclusive products such as cosmetics, perfume and alcohol. Strict demands are placed on everything from purity to construction, design and printing properties.
In early recycling stages, when the majority of the fibre has been used only a few times, the material can be used to produce different types of print paper and paperboard.
Paper is one of the most recycled products on the planet. In 2007, European paper recycling rates reached 70 percent.
Later in the process, when the fibres have already been recycled several times, they can be used to make containerboard, shoeboxes and spines for book covers.
When the fibre is completely worn out, it still has an energy value and can be incinerated. Alternatively, it can be composted or induced to rot (anaerobic digestion) to produce methane gas, which in turn can be used as a fuel.
TEXT: SUSANNA LIDSTRÖM.
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