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Paper Recycling: Nurturing Success

2017-04-04 13:04:01 | Recycling
The EU paper industry is well on the way to the 70% recycling target to which it committed itself in its latest declaration. But how was this rate achieved? and what should be done to ensure it continues? Jori Ringman-Beck explains.

By 2010 the EU paper recycling rate had risen to 68.9% – well on the way to the 70% target to which the industry committed itself in its latest declaration of 2011. This raises two questions: how was this rate achieved? and what should be done to ensure it continues? Jori Ringman-Beck explains.

The critical achievement for the European paper industry has been to voluntarily involve nearly the whole value chain in efforts to enhance environmental performance, recycling and recyclability. This has meant improving the raw material, paper product and waste at every stage of the life cycle. This is based on measurable, science-based assessments of recyclability which have been developed and agreed, sometimes with considerable effort, by all participants in the value chain. It is an approach founded on waste hierarchy and resource efficiency, and thus reflects the priorities of the Commission and the ideals of the green economy.

This industry-led move towards a circular economy, covering the whole lifecycle of the material, relies on a level of cooperation unmatched in any other industry. The European paper value chain has organised itself under European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) to monitor the progress made towards the quantitative and qualitative targets set in the European Declaration, which is reviewed every five years. Monitoring reports are published every year.

The ERPC also meets regularly to discuss topical issues and adopt measures to support recyclability and recycling. Examples of such measures are scorecards for assessing de-inkability of printed products and the ability to remove adhesive from paper at the recycling step, both aspects are of high importance and can either enable or hamper the paper recycling process.

Moreover, the additional value of the closer cooperation throughout the whole value chain is that progressively each actor will achieve better understanding of the needs and practices of others even further away in the chain. This, in turn, helps avoid problems elsewhere when decisions are taken in the value chain.

There is no sense of complacency however. It is not as if the paper industry could simply carry on with "business as usual" and expect to maintain its recycling performance. Technology needs to constantly advance in order to meet stiff external challenges. The European industry is determined to raise the bar at every opportunity, as the past decade has proved, but certain conditions must prevail for it to do so.

Quality management and separate collection
The organic fibres which paper contains are vulnerable to contamination, particularly if paper is not collected separately from other waste materials. From this perspective, it is essential that the obligation in the 2008 Waste Directive to collect paper and some other materials separately by 2015 in all member states is observed and quality management is implemented throughout the chain.

In 2010 China imported 24.4 million tonnes of paper for recycling, mainly from Europe and North America
Likewise, the supply of fibre is threatened by its energy-generation potential, driven particularly by green energy subsidies. In the ERPC's view, combustion should be the final destination for waste fibre, once all possibilities for creating value through paper products are exhausted.

An additional threat to paper recyclers in Europe is the growing tendency to export recyclates to Asia. The net trade of paper for recycling was 8.4 million tonnes in 2010, mainly due to exports by Asian buyers, particularly China. Increased collection rates are needed to match any rise in exports.

Quality & end-of-waste
The European Commission has in the past few years made a major U-turn in admitting that waste is not just a problem which needs regulation to ensure least harmful disposal - it is also a resource. Recognition of this was an important milestone set in the new EU Waste Directive (2008/98/EC), and the Commission is already moving further, with much emphasis on recycling, in drawing up a roadmap to becoming the most resource-efficient economy in the world. The paper industry is happy to support of the roadmap objective – after all, using resources efficiently is at the core of any profitable operation.

In implementing all this, the Commission has taken steps to draft the end-of-waste rules, in a material-by-material approach, one of which has been on paper. An applicable regulation to state the conditions under which collected paper would no longer be considered waste but secondary material is expected to be ready later in 2012. The political process, however, is not easy to predict and any surprise along the way could delay the process. The new regulatory mode in Brussels does however seem to be building a suitable framework.

The Directive itself sets the general requirements for all the materials which are further supplemented by material-specific criteria. It is clear that paper can readily meet all four general criteria: it is commonly used for material recycling, a strong global market for paper for recycling exists as indicated by the high and steadily increasing market prices, it meets the technical requirements of paper recycling, specified in e.g. the European EN 643 standard and any legal requirements, and without any doubt recycling paper leads to a positive environmental impact.

The final specific criteria are not known at the moment, but they are expected to be summarised as follows: waste paper ceases to be waste when it is placed on a market where it is in demand because it fulfils certain product quality requirements, has a clearly identified origin and has been processed according to the required treatment processes.

Compliance with all these requirements has to be ensured by applying the industrial practice of quality control. Most importantly, a criterion of tolerable impurities ("non-paper elements") will be set and is expected to be 1.5% as a measure of dry sorting efficiency.

In addition, the Commission has recently suggested having a tolerance for non-paper components that cannot be separated in a dry sorting process such as envelope windows or plastic notebook covers and it is expected to be 0.5%. This will be an important benchmark for the collection systems and sorting technology, as the sorted output material should not exceed these tolerance levels of non-paper components if the material is to be considered secondary material and no longer be deemed to be waste.

End-of-waste will have many positive impacts throughout the value chain. Economic impacts can be positive if the aim of reducing red tape and, in particular, not having to manage excessive amounts of residues from low quality collected paper input can be realised. Ecologically the awareness of managing resource and not waste will lead to reduced losses and therefore improved resource efficiency. Socially, the whole chain can benefit from improved health and safety and more attractive jobs.

It is also clear that these elements will have positive synergic effects crossing from ecological to economic to social and back. This will be an important factor in combating the intrinsically increasing marginal cost of paper recycling and will help the industry to further raise to bar to recycle yet more paper in Europe.

Awards for pioneers
The European paper value chain has organised itself under ERPC to monitor the progress made towards the quantitative and qualitative targets set in the European Declaration reviewed every five years.

However, a significant amount of practical, often not very visible work is done both in companies, in research centres and by various civil society groups to improve paper recycling. Every two years the ERPC calls for candidates to be recognised for their efforts in innovative projects that enhance paper recycling in Europe.

The third edition of Awards was presented in September at a ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels to three winners: 'Be Part of Birmingham's Paper Chain', a joint project by Smurfit Kappa and City of Birmingham in the category of Information & Education, and two winners in the category of technology improvements: "Project Clean" aiming to improve recycling of beverage cartons by Stora Enso and Palwaste Recycling in Barcelona, as well as a project seeking new possibilities in process control by the German research centre IPTS. The winning and other candidates can be found on the ERPC website as a collection of good ideas for others to, well, recycle.

Paper recycling around the world
The paper industry has been a beacon of success for the green economy in Europe. Further afield, in the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA), paper recycling has moved higher up the agenda, too. Global recycling rates continue to rise and in 2009 RISI reported a global recycling rate of 56%.

Under the likely end-of-waste criteria, the tolerable level of impurities is expected to be 1.5% as a measure of dry sorting efficiency
Both in the ICFPA and in Europe, a formula is used to calculate recycling rates in a conservative way: only the amounts recycled by paper mills are taken into account leaving out not-insignificant volumes of paper recycling in other industries. Furthermore, the divider in the formula is also selected conservatively as the total paper consumption, which is more than the waste arising usually used in recycling rate calculations.

Hence the published recycling rates can safely be considered highly reliable, and in practice even an underestimation of the rate compared to methods used for other materials or products.

It should also be noted that a paper recycling rate of 100% cannot be achieved, not even in theory, as some products are not recyclable (e.g. tissue and hygiene papers) or not collectable (e.g. cigarette paper, libraries, archives, art).

Jori Ringman-Beck is director for Environment, Product and Recycling in the Confederation of European Paper Industries and Secretary of the European Recovered Paper Council.

Bottle Recycling - Any kind of plastic recycling - Reusable materials in United Kingdom visit: http://manchesterpaperplastic.co.uk/
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