Sponsored by the Board of Trustees for Research and Technology of the Pulp and Paper Industry, the study underlines that even within a sustainable paper cycle with a high recycling rate, virgin fibre must continue to be used in order to sustain the life cycle of paper. A sustainable paper cycle using only recycled fibre cannot exist due to losses in the process.
Paper fibres can be lost during collection and capture for recycling. Additional fibre losses can occur if waste is misdirected into unsuitable recycling channels. Dr. Stefanie Eichiner, Senior Manager Sustainability, UPM Communication Papers, also explains that while paper fibre is robust, it cannot be recycled infinitely. “In order to sustain the paper cycle, virgin fibre needs to be used. One problem with recycling paper fibre is that it can sometimes be too dirty – due to various coatings and dyeing, for example – to be used again, leading to fibre loss. Therefore it's important to always keep recycling in mind when deciding on the printing, gluing and converting processes.“
By using both virgin- and recycled fibre, the paper production cycle can be sustained and sustainable at the same time, also providing a prime example of circular economy.
Paper remains an important building block of today’s society
Another finding is the correlation between paper consumption and national productivity. German per capita paper consumption can be considered high compared to other countries, however, in relation to gross domestic product (GDP), Germany’s paper consumption ranks in the middle. This shows that paper consumption cannot be analysed only from the individual perspective, but also as an indicator of an economically strong and productive country. This means that for an export-dependent nation like Germany, paper remains an essential building block of industry – and of everyday life.
“Paper provides an important medium for educating, building credibility, encouraging participation, and sharing information. In these areas, paper cannot be fully replaced as it continues to convey an intrinsic value for us as a society,“ Dr. Eichiner points out.
Energy consumption is another topic covered by the study. Even as German paper production is considered an energy-intensive industry, energy consumption per tonne of paper has been reduced by a remarkable 43% since 1980.
“The industry is decoupling, meaning that more production no longer means more impact. This is one of the things which gives true potential to the paper industry to be sustainable and ecological.”
The study also found that using renewable and FSC- or PEFC-certified wood promotes sustainable forestry and supports forest ecosystems without producing greenhouse gas emissions in the balance sheet.
Building a sustainable paper cycle
Recycling is an essential part of any environmentally responsible business. UPM Communication Papers is one of the largest users of recovered paper for printing papers worldwide.
To sustain a healthy paper cycle, UPM uses fully traceable virgin fibre from sustainably managed forests. UPM is committed to continuous and sustainable solutions within the paper industry‘s production processes along the value chain. By using wood from sustainably managed forests as well as environmentally conscious production processes, UPM exemplifies a sustainable circular economy in the paper industry.
The study, which was enriched with input from members of the German Federal Environment Agency and the Association of German Paper Mills, can be accessed here.