The Value of Green
May 1, 2008 By Pulp & Paper Canada
The recent and unparalleled push towards environmentalism and sustainability has created new opportunity for businesses to market and capitalize upon this new collective consciousness. The paper indus…
The recent and unparalleled push towards environmentalism and sustainability has created new opportunity for businesses to market and capitalize upon this new collective consciousness. The paper industry is in a unique position to champion the movement by incorporating recycled materials into its products, sustainable practices into its operations and overall environmental responsibility into its corporate mandate.
Many pulp, paper and forestry companies in Canada are taking the initiative to ensure that the forests from which their raw material is derived, are sustainably managed. Many paper purchasers are demanding new and increasingly stringent regulations from their suppliers.
However, there is one aspect of this new “green” attitude that seems to have been overlooked -the recycling and reuse of old fibre and paper.
As Gilles Dorris, principal scientist of FPInnovations’ recycling division notes: “Our industry is certainly taking responsibility to comply and even exceed environmental demands. I am, however, surprised that so few Canadian companies capitalize on the development of recycling products.”
Although Dorris does laud the progressive operations of Cascades, which has historically promoted recycling and environmentally sound practices, he laments the lack of forward thinking of other Canadian-based operations. “I wish that more companies would include recycling in their chain value.”
Why some companies don’t, is somewhat of a conundrum. The time is certainly ripe. Recycling is enjoying a significant resurfacing after remaining relatively dormant in wake of the recycling boom of the 1990’s.
“It is now well accepted worldwide that recycled fibre is a key part of the equation for the manufacturing of sustainable paper products,” explains Dorris. “No matter which way we look at it, the environmental benefits of paper recycling outweigh its disadvantages. Even though recycled paper is already the primary source of fibre for paper making, for at least the next 15 years, its usage is expected to grow at a rate that exceeds paper production in the world.”
So why does Dorris worry about Canadian companies not getting into the global recycling swing of things? The answer, in part, may lie in the confusion about what exactly we are seeking to achieve, environmentally.
John Mullinder, executive director of the Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) dubs the confusion phenomenon a “greenwash.”
“There is nothing new being presented by the climate change issue,” Mullinder argues. “It’s simply brought back to the forefront. It’s sustainability greenwash – everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. And while our industry remains entirely committed to environmental sustainability, we must be economically sustainable as well. You can’t be environmentally sustainable if you aren’t making a profit, and you can say all the green things you want, it doesn’t change this fact.”
Mairi Welman, director of communications for the Recycling Council of BC (RCBC), agrees with this statement in part. The non-profit organization, with its 250-strong membership comprised of individuals, companies, governments and other non-profits, serves as the “sensible middle ground” and as a collection point for pragmatic action. This mandate positions the RCBC at the forefront of the latest environmental attitudes.
According to Welman, the most popular “eco-trends” can be puzzling at times. “The ban on plastic bags became such a hot issue,” she points to the fervour with which people are beginning to shun bags not made from paper or cloth. “Plastic bags account for roughly two percent of all waste, and so what exactly was the issue? People tend to gravitate to something they can easily throw their arms around, and are looking for that silver bullet solution. I’m always suspicious of problems that have easy, obvious solutions.”
What is of interest, continues Welman, is the distinct, collective shift in thinking about the environment and the kinds of people the movement is attracting: “There was a real fervour around the environment in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it tends to wax and wane. Now, however, we are seeing a lot of people, young people as well, coming to [this movement] for the first time. We tend to no longer look at things in isolation, but to focus on how everything is connected.”
How does this shift present itself as an opportunity for the paper industry? “People need to put their money where their mouthes are,” replies Welman. “When you’re talking about a resource-based economy, you’re talking about extraction.”
When consumers contemplate their paper purchases and try to decide between a lower-cost product produced in a South American or Asian country, there are many factors involved in being an environmentally responsible consumer.
“We need to factor in the environmental costs of transporting that product, for one,” Welman notes. “You always have to think: if you aren’t paying the full cost of that product, who is? People and the environment in Third World countries are paying it.”
Welman sees further advantages of environmental consciousness for Canada’s paper industry versus its offshore competitors. The sustainable practices employed to produce Canadian paper should be marketed to consumers, she believes: “I’d love to see Canadian paper branded as environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
Making it Work
U. S.-based Fibermark is one North American company successfully branding its environmental progressivism. The specialty paper manufacturer and coater has made significant headway in incorporating recycled materials into its products.
“We are being driven by our customers to be environmental stewards,” says Susan Hurt, Fibermark’s vice president of marketing product management and business development. “Our pressboard now contains 100% recycled fibre content and some of it can also be recycled.”
As well, the company is using vegetable oil in all boilers at its dense-pressboard plant in Vermont. “We’re doing something for the environment we think is really unique,” says Hurt. Fibermark recently received Forest Stewardship Council status.
“We source virgin fibre from sustainable sources and that is the value of FSC -it allows us to offer this guarantee,” continues Hurt. “We’re finding that because we source our fibre from North America, in a responsible manner, it’s easier to confirm to consumers where our material came from. Staples walked away from Asia’s pulp and paper because it couldn’t assure its customers of the sustainability of those products.”
The ability in North America to market paper products as sustainable provides a certain competitive advantage, Hurt would argue, as more and more consumers look for recycled content and environmentally friendly practices in their purchases.
Hurt will also attest, however, to certain confusion among consumers regarding environmental issues -recycling in particular. The company’s achievement of FSC status underlines this fact.
“People think this certification means the product will have recycled content, when this isn’t necessarily the case,” says Hurt. “There is a difference between a product having recycled content, and being recyclable. So while I believe everyone values each of these, we are still trying to sort some of the issues out.”
However, an emphasis on recycling allows companies such as Fibermark to explore new avenues and to expand current product repertoires in different ways. As Hurt notes, in the past, durable products made by the company were meant to last and thus did not focus as much on being recyclable: “These products weren’t created with the intention of being immediately consumed, and tossed away.”
However, as consumers demand products that can be recycled, Fibermark is being asked to make durable products that are, in fact, recyclable. One result is the addition of post-consumer fib
re content to a number of its products. There is also room for capitalizing on new, sustainable
products altogether. Non-cellulose fibres, as well as hemp or corn-based fibre, are of particular interest. “I’m not certain at this point if this is an intrigue, or a trend, but it’s a gleam in the eye,” says Hurt. “It certainly wouldn’t replace our fibre sources but it could serve as a niche market.”
Gilles Dorris of FPInnovations would agree with Hurt’s assessment that traditional fibre sources are not about to be replaced by alternative paper-making resources. “Recycled paper is already the primary source of fibre for paper-making and for at least the next 15 years, its usage is expected to grow at a rate that exceeds paper production in the world.”
By 2020, more than 50 percent of the fibre used in paper or paperboard products is expected to be recycled fibre. Tissue, as Dorris notes, is an example of a product that will see recycled content increase even in its most top quality grades.
Where We’re Headed
Despite the resurgence of the environmental movement and a strong societal emphasis on recycling, there are other factors still in play. As Dorris notes, “the fate of recycling [in Canada] is closely linked to the present state of the industry. With the demand for newsprint declining at a rate greater than expected, many machines are closing and this trend is not quite over, because supply and demand are not yet balanced.”
As a result, some recycling plants have ceased operations temporarily or have permanently closed up shop. Notes Dorris: “Some mills that continue to operate have decided to stop their de-inking operations because the manufacturing costs of recycled pulp is currently greater than that of virgin mechanical pulp in these mills.”
The latest example: Tembec’s decision to discontinue using old newsprint at its Powerview-Pine Falls plant in April; the deinking facility had a daily capacity to pulp and deink 150 dry metric tonnes of magazines and newsprint per day but was running at about 100 metric tonnes per day. Tembec confirmed plans to continue its newsprint operations at the mill (annual capacity 180,000 metric tonnes) using fibre harvested directly from Manitoba trees. In a memo to its suppliers, Tembec said that costs associated with using recycled material -as opposed to actual trees -had become too high. The mill is now using 100% virgin wood fibre to make its paper.
According to Dorris, the recycling situation is somewhat better for the larger newsprint, board and tissue product facilities. They can remain competitive and, if improved collection rates from recovered- paper sources translate into more abundant fibre and lower costs, this will further ameliorate their position. “However,” Dorris cautions, “in the near future, there is no sign of expansion products or for the construction of new de-inking and recycling plants in Canada.”
In the meantime, the industry is working towards reducing the costs of manufacturing and to develop new ways to introduce recycled fibre into new, or future paper products.
By 2020, more than 50% of the fibre used in paper or paperboard products is expected to be recycled fibre. Tissue is an example of a product that will see recycled content increase even in its most top quality grades.
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