What Effect Is The Circular Economy Having On The Paper Industry?

As we become more mindful of our actions, we are choosing more suitable and environmentally friendly paper solutions while trying to minimise our use plastic.

This is likely to impact the paper industry in many different ways. When we consider all the different ways we use paper for, there is a huge amount to evolve into the circular economy. We will no longer be a throw-away society. 

Let’s look at how the circular economy and the paper industry are going to impact each other:

What is the Circular Economy? 

The circular economy is the idea that we can create products that do not end up in a landfill.

Instead, we ditch the linear approach of making something and then throwing it away. Instead, it’s replaced with making something, repurposing it and then reusing the materials again. Consequently, it minimises waste and allows for more sustainable use of resources.

What effect is it having on the paper industry? 

A change to how we approach manufacturing is obviously going to impact the industry. However, this new economic model works alongside businesses. Therefore, we can look at how the circular economy affects the paper industry in both positive and negative ways.

Changing designs

By designing the packaging for recycling and reuse, the design of materials would have to change. As we’re moving away from plastic, more pressure is on cardboard and paper packaging. The EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive sets the percentage of packaging that must be recycled to 65% by 2020. Therefore, the paper industry has to think about redesigning their products. Not only this but how to close the circular loop every step of the way. 

Using different materials

By aiming to make the materials recyclable or reusable, the right materials are vital. Therefore the paper industry needs to invest in changing the makeup of their products. In addition, it must still be cost-effective and economical.

It might even be the case that the paper industry will have to adapt to a high cost of materials. Not only this, but they might have to consider new ways to deal with the by-products of production. 

In some cases, other manufacturing processes can use industry by-products. The great thing about the pulp and paper industry is that it is from a renewable source. Trees will continuously grow. Making paper also increases the viability of the material for fuel. For example, weight-for-weight you can get more energy-burning paper than you would from wood. 

Increasing innovation

The great thing about paradigm shifts in industries is that it opens a whole new opportunity for innovation.

Whether it’s creating new materials or researching into smart packaging – there are opportunities for the industry to make a break-though. It can change the way we live our lives. Innovation can be the difference between creating packaging that allows 100 items to be transported and 1000 items to be transported. 

Although the paper industry will see the innovation initially as costly, investing in research and technology can help save money. Even simply reducing the size of the packaging in relation to what it’s holding can make a difference. 

Shaping infrastructure

There is no doubt that moving towards the circular economy is going to impact the paper industry infrastructure. Manufacturing will streamline and by-products collected. The infrastructure currently used to bury waste will need repurposing as there will, hopefully, be less need for it. 

Education

The paper industry and stakeholders will need to increase the knowledge and understanding within the workforce. Educating the public will also improve the uptake of the new packaging. Often consumers end up picking the cheapest option. Education shows that recycled and reusable packaging and paper not only meets CSR targets but doesn’t compromise on quality and usability. 

Circular economy and paper industry

The circular economy aims to benefit the paper industry. There will be some initial hurdles and costs. However, it means that as a consumer, we can choose the best companies to provide the most environmentally friendly packaging. It’s obvious that we’re going to run out of landfill space. With countries like China no longer accepting our rubbish, we need to come up with solutions on the ground.

Therefore, moving from a linear to a circular business pattern allows us to close the loop and cut out waste and resources loss.

Paper: Who’d Have Thought It Would Be the Answer to Plastics?

In recent years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the use of plastic packaging.

A 2017 survey by grassroots environmental group A Plastic Planet, for example, found 81% of people were concerned about the amount of plastic packaging being thrown away and 91% backed the introduction of plastic free supermarket aisles.

In 2018 the BBC aired Blue Planet II, and the interest in finding solutions to plastic waste pollution became a major focus for the UK government, who released a consultation to gain the public’s views on banning single-use plastics.

Many businesses have decided not to wait for the results of this consultation while others feel it doesn’t go far enough.  Last year, over 180 major companies including Tesco, Unilever, Nestlé, Birds Eye and Boots, signed the UK Plastics Pact, committing to eliminate single-use plastic packaging from their supply chains and replacing all plastic packaging with reusable, recyclable or compostable alternatives.

What, though, are these alternatives?  While some businesses are looking for technological solutions, others are turning to a more traditional product, one that has been around for 2,000 years – paper.

Paper has a long tradition of being used as packaging (archaeologists have found mirrors wrapped in paper from as early as the 2nd Century BC), but it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the use of wood-pulp to produce paper-based products made it much more affordable to produce paper. This was followed by the invention of paper bag cutting machines, making the use of paper as packaging much more commonplace.

Today, more than 400 million metric tonnes of paper and cardboard are produced worldwide each year; over 50% is used for packaging paper.

Benefits of paper packaging

One of the main benefits of paper is that it’s a renewable resource, one that can be re-used and recycled much more easily than plastic: the most recent UK government figures show almost double the amount of paper and cardboard (81.9%) is recycled compared to plastic (44.9%).

Even if paper ends up in the rubbish, it decomposes with little harm to the environment, unlike plastic: on average, a paper bag takes one month to break down while a plastic bag takes ten years.

Paper packaging is a flexible and affordable way to preserve, protect and transport a wide range of items.

Cardboard (or containerboard), for example, is strong, sturdy and comes in a range of sizes, making it ideal for shipping everything from household items to works of art; paper bags are perfect for shoppers wanting to take home groceries and store food such as coffee, tea, snacks, or sweets; and paper sacks make shipping bulk dry goods easy and affordable.

Paper bags generally have flat bases, unlike plastic bags, which make them stable and easier to store on shelves or in cupboards; they are also safer as you cannot suffocate in a paper bag and paper is much less toxic than plastic. Cardboard packaging is generally boxed-shaped, making it easier to stack, reducing the amount of space needed in warehouses, along with costs to businesses. All paper packaging is easy for companies to brand, making paper packaging a great marketing tool as well as a practical method for storing and transporting goods.

What next for paper packaging?

As consumers push for more sustainable packaging, companies are looking for ways to give their customers what they want.

McDonald’s, for example, recently announced it would make the change from plastic to paper straws in May 2019, and Morrisons are moving to paper bags too.

Beyond this, paper packaging manufacturers are looking at innovative ways to produce paper and package products.

In Germany, the US and Canada, for example, sweet manufacturers are looking at packaging their products in edible paper while in California, one company has been funded to impregnate compostable coffee cups with seeds from local trees and plants while another has developed a paper bottle that can safely be used with liquids including water and laundry detergent.

As a result of these changes, the market is set to grow considerably, with some estimates suggesting the global green packaging market will reach $237.8 billion by 2024.

This presents huge opportunities for paper packaging manufacturers to develop packaging for products typically packaged in plastic and for companies to attract consumers searching for eco-friendly options when making a purchase.

How Much Paper Comes From One Tree?

Many businesses try to achieve the goal of a paperless office.

However, this is usually because of the mess and confusion that paper documents create, rather than the fact they are striving to reduce the impact on the environment. However, by using less paper, we can help to save the number of trees from being felled, but just how much paper comes from one tree? How many trees can we save by limiting our paper usage?

Can we accurately work out how much paper comes from one tree?

Paper manufacturing uses a mix of different tree types.

While the majority of paper is made from pine trees, often other trees are used to create the pulp that will then become a sheet of paper. As well as the different types of trees used, another consideration is the fact that trees will always vary in the size and shape. Some trees will be tall with thin trunks while others may be shorter and wider. Of course, trees will always vary depending on their age, environment and type of tree.

How much paper comes from one tree, on average?

It is estimated that a standard pine tree, with 45ft of the usable trunk and a diameter of eight inches, will produce around 10,000 sheets of paper. To consider this in another way, one ream of paper (which is 500 sheets) will use 5% of a tree. Using only 5% of a tree for a ream of paper may seem like a small amount, but when you consider the number of boxes of paper that offices use on a regular basis it quickly added up.

In fact, on average, an office will use the equivalent of one tree every year, even in offices that limit their paper usage and strive for a paperless office.

Another consideration is that coated paper that is used for high-quality printing and magazines will require more pulp. In fact, one tone of coated magazine paper uses over 15 trees. For paper used for newspapers, it takes around 12 trees to create one tonne of newspaper. When you consider how many magazines and newspapers are printed and distributed across the world, it is difficult to visualise the number of trees being used.

Considerations for calculations

As well as estimating the typical size and type of tree used for paper creation, there are other considerations that can impact the calculations. These include the quality of paper, with a variety of thicknesses and quality, the amount of wood pulp required to make a tree increases. Other aspects to consider is whether the paper uses recycled material within the pulp and what percentage the recycled material is.

How many trees are felled for paper?

In the last 40 years, paper usage has grown 400%. This means that over two million trees are felled every day for global paper consumption, meaning four billion trees are cut every year to serve our paper needs. When you consider this, it makes you question whether that document is really worth printing.

The Box Manufacturing Process Explained

The humble cardboard box is one of the most used packaging materials. It is a core product in packaging manufacturing. It not only fills the shelves, but it can be seen all throughout the supply chain too. When looking at a cardboard box, typically printed and branded with inviting colours and wording, it is hard to imagine it started life as a tree. We discuss the box manufacturing process step by step.

As consumers, we often forget to consider how items came to be, but we think the packaging should be celebrated. So, how does a tree finally become a box?

The steps of box manufacturing

1.     The tree

While we ideally look for recycled cardboard for box production, at one point, a cardboard box started life as a tree. Typically, the trees used for box manufacturing are softwood trees such as pine and fir tree. The reason they are chosen is that they have long fibres which can help to create a smooth finish for the cardboard as well as creating tension which increases the strength.

Many manufacturers will choose wood from sustainable and managed woodland; this means that any trees that are felled are replaced to help maintain the ecosystem of the forest. The paper and cardboard created will have a different colouring depending on the tree used. For example, silver birch trees will produce a dark colour, while a spruce will create a light brown colour.

2.     The pulp

From felling the tree, wood chips are made. These wood chips are then broken down into pulp. This can be done through grinding the wood against a stone or chemically cooking the wood chips. With this, you can add chemicals such as sodium sulphate to increase the strength of the pulp. For most cardboard, the pulp is left as the same colour. However, it can also be bleached to create a white appearance.

3.     Corrugation

Once the pulp has been dried, you can then start to create cardboard. For corrugated cardboard, it requires two pieces of paper or card called liners and a portion of fluted cardboard, which sits in between the liners. To fluting helps to give the cardboard further strength and a higher level of protection against damage.

Rolls of the paper made from the dried pulp are fed through a corrugated roller, which flutes or ruffles the paper. Depending on the quality of the box being made will depend on the level of fluting required. As increasing the fluting leads to higher use of material and therefore increased strength, this is used for high-quality boxes. For cheaper boxes, less fluting can be used which can help to create space-saving, a reduced amount of material used and can lower the carbon emissions.

The corrugation machine uses hot steam to create the flutes. At the same time glue is rolled down each side of the flute, so that is sticks to the liners. Once corrugated cardboard is formed, it is then trimmed to provide straight edges.

4.     Cutting

Now that you have complete corrugated cardboard, it is time to cut the card to size, depending on the box requirements. There is a comprehensive guide, and many of the machines are programmed to cut the cardboard to scale automatically depending on production demand. Once the basic outline has been cut, the card is then sent to a trimmer.

The trimmer is designed to deal with intricate aspects that the cutting machine cannot handle. A trimmer can add handles to boxes and cut flaps that are needed to construct the box. The trimmer also scores the cardboard, making it easier to fold when the box is ready for assembly.

5.     Assembly

Assembly will depend on the requirements of the box. The use of flaps and slots may be best for business who want to construct their boxes on demand. As well as these, boxes built with tape are often efficient to be constructed as and when they are required. Usually, for more robust boxes, glue and stitching are used to fold sections together and keep the box secure.

Specific innovative machinery can construct boxes for you on demand. For example, Box on Demand is an on-demand box making machine. It creates the perfect size box depending on your needs to reduce waste and ensure the best fit. The box is constructed for you which can significantly reduce packing production time.

After assembly, offcuts can be recycled to continue in the chain of box making. After the boxes have been branded, printed and utilised, they can be recycled and create a continuous cycle of recycled box manufacturing.

 

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