New research: Paper fibre can be recycled 25 times

New research shows that paper fibre can be recycled 25 times with high quality. This is more than three times higher than previous estimates and means that the recycling value of paper packaging is much higher than the industry and consumers have previously known.

Paper and cardboard are cornerstones of the Swedish forest-based bioeconomy, and materials with a long history in the region. It was also around these industries that the world-leading bioeconomy cluster Paper Province emerged 23 years ago.

Now, a new study shows that paper fibre can be recycled with good quality 25 times. This is significantly more than previous estimates, which have shown four to seven times.

Sandra Sundbäck, Photo by Fredrik Karlsson/SolstaFoto

“Today, Paper Province brings together companies working on the forest bioeconomy in a broad context, from the very smallest components such as nanocellulose to the very large such as wood building elements, but also related industries and the service sector,” says Sandra Sundbäck, CEO at Paper Province.

“Still, most of our member companies are linked to pulp, paper and cardboard, so it is very exciting to see that there is such a large potential in paper fibre when we tap into the circular mindset and focus on recycling.”

Rasing the bar for recycling

According to the EU’s statistical office Eurostat, paper and cardboard has by far the highest recycling rate of all packaging materials in Europe. In 2019, the recycling rate reached around 85 percent. The paper industry aims to raise the overall recycling rate of fibre-based packaging in Europe to 90 percent by 2030, according to The Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

“We are seeing a growing interest in the circular economy as the world’s sustainability requirements are increasing. Several of our member companies have already come a long way in these areas, but there is more to do. By getting better at collaborating on resources between companies, for example. The paper fibre is a part of that puzzle, and for me these new research results prove that smart behaviours such as recycling can make an already valuable resource even more valuable,” says Sandra Sundbäck.

The report

Read the report “Recyclability of cartonboard and carton” by Dr Rene Eckhart (Nov 2021):

Utilizing the whole tree

Although the paper fibre can be reused more than 25 times, fresh raw material from the forest also plays an important part in the ecosystem. Recycled and virgin fibre-based packaging have different characteristics and qualities, with virgin fibre being more suitable for certain food packaging.

In Sweden, the entire tree is utilized, and only the thinner part of the trunk is turned into pulp to produce paper and cardboard. The strongest part of the trunk becomes timber for construction, for example. The tops and branches of the trees, as well as forest industry residues, are used for bioenergy, biofuels, chemical production. When the paper fibre can no longer be recycled, it can be used one last time as biofuel.

In addition, there are innovative entrepreneurs who are creating entirely new types of products from the various components of trees, thus helping to increase the value of the forest.

Source: Swedish Forest Industries