In 50 years, it will still do the job

Our packaging material is designed with longevity and sustainability at its core. It is not only strong but also fully recyclable, capable of undergoing up to six cycles of recycling while retaining high quality. This process reflects our commitment to reducing waste and preserving resources.

After six cycles the paper material can continue its journey, being recycled up to 25 times* into various everyday applications such as egg cartons and tissue. With an estimated shelf time of two years a single batch of our paper could potentially remain in use for about 50 years.

Our durable paper is an important element in the recycling loop. By choosing our paper, you are not just selecting a product; you are participating in a cycle of environmental responsibility.

Supporting the recycling loop

The essence of a circular economy lies in the smart and repeated use of materials. The EU commission emphasizes the importance of maximizing the usage of packaging resources. In Europe, paper-based packaging excels in recovery and recycling efficiency, with more than 70%** of paper and board being recycled.

The recycling process faces challenges due to gaps in the supply chain, necessitating a harmonious collaboration between producers and consumers. Each participant plays a vital role in maintaining this delicate balance. Understanding and actively participating in this system is essential for its success, underlining the importance of both producing and choosing products that support this sustainable cycle.

*The Recyclability of cartonboard and Carton, Dr Rene Eckhart, Technische Universität Graz, 2021.
** European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC) – Monitoring Report 2022

Billerud packaging material: Billerud’s premium packaging contributes efficiently to the recycling loop, and supports the whole function of it. Our original fiber is so clean and strong that it can protect both food and medical devices without any risk of contamination. When our packaging goes into the recycling mill and is disintegrated, it increases the quality of the new pulp from recycled paper.

Paper production: In the separate recycling mill, the sorted and classified paper comes in to become new paper. The paper is teared to shreds and mixed with water for maximum disintegration. Certain pulp has to be cleaned with chemicals to get rid of contaminants like ink or previous content. Every recycling mill is specialised in producing certain paper qualities in accordance with the European List of Standard Grades of Paper and Board for Recycling, EN 643 (European Standard). Some of them use long, strong fiber, while others use recycled fiber. EN 643 does not accept any materials that are hazardous for health, safety or environment. For every loop, the fiber is shortened, and because of the rather tough treatment it becomes hardened after five or six cycles, and can no longer be used for high quality paper. From then on, the pulp can be formed into recycled paper for less demanding tasks, such as egg cartons or tissue, up to 25 times. For every loop, there is a leak of mass due to weakened fiber and contamination. Not all fibers meet the needs of paper making.

Customers: The paper is transported to Billerud’s customers, who produce the actual packaging. Sometimes our customers have the paper sent to a separate converter, who produces a specialized packaging treatment, eg. heat-seal, coating and printing. When the new customers plan their use of the paper, it’s important that it’s fit for the purpose. All producers of packaging also have Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to pay for the disposal of their packaging. Recycled paper comes in many classifications, and for contents like food or medical devices, the cleanliness demanded can make recycled fibers inappropriate.

Consumers: Once the paper packaging is used, it becomes the responsibility of the consumer to take care of it. The paper must be disposed of and collected in the correct way in order to be used again. With 71%* of consumers actively taking part in recycling, and 71%* are also choosing products based on packaging sustainability, we can see a willingness among consumers to support recycling efforts. Studies show that 82%* of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. This figure has grown for a number of years. Among consumers aged between 18–24, 90%* are willing to pay more. Even if paper is the most recycled material in Europe, the loop is not without problems. A certain percentage of the paper is never sorted properly, but instead put in the common household garbage and burned. A totally unnecessary leakage in the system.

*2023 Buying Green Report

Collection: When the consumer is done with the packaging, it’s important that it is pre-sorted as paper waste. The current recycling rate for paper of 70,5% still places Europe well ahead of the rest of the world, with an average global recycling rate of 59,9% in 2021, according to the CEPI Monitoring Report 2022. So there is significant leakage. The (hopefully) correctly sorted paper waste is gathered in separate bins by recycling companies, specialized in pre-sorting.

Loss of mass: 100% recycling is not possible, because the loop leaks here and there. Collection and consumer behavior is not perfect, and the recycling mill cannot use fibers that are too short after their previous tough treatment. There is also a significant loss of value, as much of the long fiber material entering the recycling flow comes out as mixed grades (at lower value than Old Corrugated Cardboard, OCC). After 25 loops, recycled fiber loses its strength significantly, it’s best to incinerate it for heat generation.

Pre-sorting: All paper must be pre-sorted, sorted, and separated from non-paper items and contaminants. The paper is sorted visually into white and brown streams and then further sorted using special facilities with technically advanced systems of NIR (Near Infra Red light, a type of electromagnetic radiation), automated code reading, and strong fans. One important task here is to trace contamination of plastics, laminates, printing ink, and contamination from the previous contents of packaging.

Classification: Classification of the paper is done automatically in the sorting station. This is done according to the European List of Standard Grades of Paper and Board for Recycling, EN 643, which divides paper into five classes, where 1 is the highest quality, and 5 is the lowest. Recyclable paper must be predominantly made from paper but may include things that can’t be removed in dry sorting (coatings, laminates, spiral bindings, etcetera). The paper is sent to either a standard mill or a specialized mill. Recycled paper or board is disintegrated, eventually refined, and a new paper is produced again.

Again, and again, and again –
to reach your sustainability goals

Every protective packaging has to withstand wear and tear (time, climate, and load) in demanding delivery chains. Our packaging material is ideal for this, since it’s stronger than recycled paper. The packaging can, therefore, be made thinner and lighter, and still give perfect protection. A lighter packaging results in a smaller CO2 footprint due to the reduced demands on production, waste, transportation, and recycling resources. Actually, Billerud’s products can reduce up to 40% of the total CO2 emissions of the packaging, compared to a standard solution.


A broad perspective on sustainability

Billerud not only works hard with longevity. We also take pride in our wider role as a pioneer of sustainability. We constantly try to reduce our environmental impact. One of many improvements is the diminishing use of fossil fuels in our worldwide operations.

Billerud’s European production is already 97% fossil free. Our goal now is to make production completely fossil free. The removal of fossil fuels severely reduces the environmental impact of paper production and aligns with the global push towards using renewable energy sources. One of the key elements for a fossil-free production is a stable and efficient production. This demands putting safety first.

All paper production uses a lot of energy. Most of this energy is generated in the pulp process, where a lot of waste heat is released. This excess heat is used directly in production, but also provides local communities with district heating. This use of waste heat in our own production has reduced our carbon footprint. In our European operations, we generate up to 40% of our electricity internally. All purchased electricity is covered by fossil-free energy certificates. We work continuously to increase the overall energy efficiency of our facilities and to find new ways to further increase the amount of energy produced from sustainable, fossil-free sources.

Billerud’s European use of fuel 2022 (%).

Using the railway, recovering chemicals

In 2022, 70% of the outgoing land transports from our European mills travelled by rail. Together with carriers, we are pushing for the transition to a fossil-free fleet. We will continue to actively choose the mode of transport and monitor developments in technology and fuel, railway expansion and the electrification of roads.

The chemicals used to release the fibers from the wood are recovered and reused in a cyclical process. Wood residues after fiber extension are used for energy.

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