Research & Innovation
Closing the loop on Canada’s circular bioeconomy
By Ian Lifshitz
How pulp and paper manufacturers can capitalize on a new sector while becoming more sustainable
By Ian Lifshitz
In May of this year, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) proposed the first national Bioeconomy Strategy for Canada, reflecting the views of more than 400 industry representatives from across the country.
The strategy recommended action in four key areas: creating agile regulation and government policy, establishing biomass supply and stewardship, building strong companies and value chains, and building strong sustainable innovation ecosystems.
Globally, the pulp and paper industry has been at the forefront of innovation with respect to the bioeconomy. Canadian paper manufacturers and distributors stand poised to become leaders in the industry and companies within the ecosystem can pave the way in sustainable, renewable best practices and supply chains.
What can corporations do?
In doing so, Canadian companies will increasingly need to look to blend the circular economy with the bioeconomy to ensure that a sustainable closed system forms as the cornerstone of their operations. (A circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate waste by continually using resources through recycling and remanufacturing).
The resultant circular bioeconomy will close the loop by combining sustainable product development, compostable and recycled materials and production processes, resulting in sustainable solutions and products.
Companies will play a key role in responding to changing consumer demands for more sustainable products right from sustainable sourcing to supply chain and end product offerings.
The corporate sector is expected to contribute significantly to the development of the bio-economy through the development of bioproducts such as fibre-based packaging, wood products, bio-composites and bio-plastics from wood-based biomass. They will work closely with the forest sector in the development of forest biorefineries that produce chemicals and energy, creating new markets for advanced forest-based products.
Seeking out sustainable supply chains
Taking a cue far from home, in Indonesia, sustainably managed forests (further helped by ideal tropical conditions) ensure that trees grow back in five years. Asia Pulp & Paper uses these plantations for their raw material, as well as for their byproducts such as tree barks and branches. These side-stream products can be converted to biogas for mill operations or to bio ash, which serves as rich natural fertilizer for the forest. This type of sustainable sourcing ensures lower carbon footprint and eliminates waste while replenishing the forests with rich organic matter.
To maximize waste recovery and increase biofuels production, companies can decrease reliance on coal and cut carbon emissions. Additional byproducts such as sludge, dregs and grits from mill operations can serve as fertilizer for forestry. Ash from coal-based power plants can be used for civil construction materials and backfill, or for land reclamation in mining operations.
Mills that procure imported pulp can use the plastic straps and wooden crates to generate handicraft opportunities for local communities and thereby spur community income. These are just some areas that companies can focus their operations on to be truly sustainable and carbon neutral.
On the customer side or at the retail level, collecting paper waste and packaging waste and reusing it as raw material during the pulping process in mill operations will lead to lower carbon footprint and trend towards zero waste.
As a result of this focused effort, biodegradable and recyclable products can be developed along with completely sustainable packaging. At Asia Pulp & Paper, we developed the Bio Natura Foopak and straw paper, a sustainable, compostable, recyclable and re-pulpable lightweight virgin paperboard for multi-use cups and containers, but the uses and potential for further development is infinite.
The market differentiator
Canadian companies are starting to bring sustainable products to the market, such as paper straws and cups, while increasing the use of recycled material to offer more sustainable products and solutions. Through further advancements in sustainable product development and ongoing growth in the use of biofuels, sustainable supply chains can be built to ensure that a circular bioeconomy thrives.
From forest to shelf, end-to-end sustainable product development allows organizations to promote and enhance their sustainability efforts as a market differentiator. This not only empowers them to meet and exceed sustainability goals but also lowers carbon footprint at the development phase.
Advanced biodegradable products will eliminate landfill waste and offer a pragmatic solution to those communities without established recycling programs. Sustainable values are no longer a nice-to-have but a critical dependency as global organizations look to capture market share by promoting the use of sustainable materials.
The Canadian industry can pave the way and become a global leader in this circular bioeconomy.
Ian Lifshitz is vice-president of sustainability and stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp & Paper Canada.