Published - 2017/03/09
The 7 lives of a tree. Sustainable enough?
Take a closer look at the cardboard box that you just opened, or the newspaper you finished reading, or the bag of toilet tissue you recently bought. In an earlier life, they all used to be trees. Or rather, the cellulose fibres these products are made of used to be trees. But since then, the fibres have made a long journey.
Let’s start from the beginning, out in the deep forests. Chances are that these trees grew in the Nordics and were planted at the beginning of the 20th century. Then they were cared for, decade after decade. While they grew, they absorbed enormous amounts of CO2 and produced oxygen, year after year.
Then they got harvested. And while new seedlings were planted, the best timber became floorboards, kitchen cabinets, or even complete houses. The rest was meticulously processed into fresh fibre pulp. Which eventually allowed publicists to issue their glossiest magazines. Confectionaries to pack their most delicate chocolates. And IT companies to market their smartest mobile phones.
End of act one. Time to recycle. These recycled fibres return as tabloid newsprint, heavy-duty packaging board, trendy wallpaper, best-selling books, or almost anything else. And so, it evolves. Time after time, in an eternal cycle of life. Or?
The truth is that not even cellulose fibres have eternal life. After six or seven iterations they’re done. Their tenacity is gone, and they turn into dust. And here’s the catch of the very important and ambitious recycling systems deployed all over the world today. Unless they’re fed with a certain amount of new, fresh fibre, they collapse.
Where will this insight take the recycling industry in the long run? How will it affect the policies of the environmentalists? And what opportunities will it present to adaptive and inventive pulp & paper companies that want to focus even more on sustainability?
We don’t know yet. But we can find out.
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