26 June 2021. Europe’s paper and pulp industry is the second biggest in the world. Figures from 2014 show the sector manufactured more than 130 million tonnes – that’s around 23% of global production. It’s estimated 11 million tonnes of that ended up as non-recyclable waste.
The EU’s paperChain project aims to harness this waste paper material so that it can be used as a resource in other industries, such as construction and mining.
To find out more about how paper waste and other wood-based materials are being harnessed to replace fossil fuels like coal and oil, Business Planet spoke to Johan Elvnert, Secretary-General of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform.
The pulp and paper industry is pretty resource-intensive, is the sector transforming itself to become more sustainable?
Johan Elvnert, Secretary-General of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform: "The EU pulp and paper industry recycles each paper fibre as many times as possible today, but in the end, the fibre is simply too short to use again and waste like ink residues, mineral fillers or food stuck inside a paper bag you throw away, it accumulates. What cannot be used for products is mostly burned for energy, but the industry is working very hard to use today's waste for tomorrow's products. The paperChain project is one very good example of this. Another example is growing food for fish farms and the treatment water from pulp mills. So the best is not to think of it as waste, but as a resource."
Do you think we're witnessing a new age of wood?
Johan Elvnert, Secretary-General of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform: "Wood is fantastic and it's renewable. And people have many exciting ideas to replace fossil materials with wood. So, for instance, researchers are developing transparent wood that could replace glass and some applications. But I'm also very happy when I see traditional products such as paper bags making a comeback or buildings using wood that actually store carbon in the cities."
Isn't it the case that some of these biobased materials are just simply too expensive right now, and this is why we're not replacing them with fossil fuels?
Johan Elvnert, Secretary-General of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform:
"It's true that since oil is so cheap, people have figured out how to use it for almost everything. Unfortunately, this creates waste and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. People are aware of these problems and they want alternatives. In the forest-based sector, we are figuring out how to provide this. And, we have, for instance, wood-based textiles, green chemicals on healthcare products. So we're closing the gap."
Shouldn't we be protecting forests rather than cutting more of them down?
Johan Elvnert, Secretary-General of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform: "I am a family forest owner myself, so I know it's possible both to use the forest and protecting it at the same time. So my grandparents, they planted the trees, I will harvest and I have planted the trees that coming generations will harvest. And it's very rewarding to see wildlife, like moose and wild boar living in our forest. And when we harvest the tree, I know it will be used for sustainable things that people need."
By Paul Hackett https://www.euronews.com