In January 2020, UPM joined 4evergreen, a newly founded cross-industry alliance, initiated by Cepi, the European association representing the paper industry. The motto is ‘perfecting circularity together’. The alliance aims to achieve a 90% recycling rate of fibre-based packaging by 2030 throughout Europe. Member companies share best practices and jointly boost innovation, such as new kind of recycling technology.
The initiative delivers multiple synergies among companies who create and promote low-carbon and circular fibre-based packaging. At its core is the determination to help contribute to a more climate-neutral and sustainable society.
Fibre-based packaging is made from renewable fibre and/or recycled fibre, which is sourced from sustainably managed forests. A critical contributor to the circular economy, according to Eurostat, fibre-based packaging currently has the highest recycling rate in volume (83%) in comparison to metal (81%), glass (76%) and plastics (40%) and it currently accounts for more than 38% of packaging on the continent. Recent number crunching estimates the total production volume of fibre-based packaging in Europe at more than 56 million tonnes per year.
To reach the target of achieving a 90% recycling rate by 2030, 4evergreen has identified four intermediary targets to be attained by 2025:
- All collected fibre-based packaging, particularly from household, out-of-home, and on-the-go consumption, is recycled
- All Paper for Recycling (PfR) is sorted according to the EN 643 standard
- Separate collection streams are made available for all types of fibre-based packaging, particularly those used in household, out-of-home, and on-the-go consumption
- The entire industry adopts 4evergreen’s recyclability evaluation protocol and its circularity-by-design guidelines for fibre-based packaging.
Industry collaboration is key
Emilia Moisio is a member of 4evergreen’s Steering Group, and is also Technology, New Fibre Businesses Director at UPM. “UPM is one of Europe’s biggest recyclers, but being part of the 4evergreen alliance is one concrete example of how we try to achieve goals that no company would be able to reach on its own, like further increasing the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging. The alliance also addresses regulatory challenges as well as the development and adaptation of different packaging solutions to current recycling loop.”
According to Susanne Haase, Project Director at 4evergreen, the alliance has proven to be an enormous undertaking since its founding. “It’s an extremely ambitious project,” she says.
“We have come very far in two years. From January to July 2020, we did a huge first data collection exercise to establish a fact base regarding the fibre-based packaging value chain. We released that data report internally. Then we implemented a strategy taskforce that has derived the strategic recommendations from the almost 400-page internal data report. Then, based on that, at the end of 2020 we kicked off five workstreams. Four of them are technical workstreams, working towards tangible deliverables, and the fifth is related to information, education and the engaging with 4evergreens’ target audiences. We anticipate that the first deliverables will arrive in 2022. To date, it has been an enormous amount of work, alignment, and bringing heads, brains and expertise together.”
To help achieve these 2025 targets, and for UPM to reach its own targets the company has been actively involved with the workstreams implemented by 4evergreen. As part of the alliance, many differing companies are involved. These include pulp, paper and board manufacturers, packaging producers and converters, waste management companies, brand owners, recyclers, and retailers. As a material supplier UPM is part of the alliance to help it to improve innovation so the recycling rate can be increased.
With regards to the different workstreams, adds Moisio, “So, we have to design the packaging material jointly with the packaging value chains that it fits into the recycling loop and there are different workstreams that are targeted towards this. The first workstream is about recyclability testing, to evaluate how the disposed packaging can be processed in recycling. Then you have a designing guideline workstream that looks at the components in the packaging and analyses what is preventing recycling in the fibre-based packaging, as well as what is increasing recycling. Workstream three is about sorting and collection and how that loop works in different countries and how it should look to get maximum recyclability. The fourth workstream focuses on innovation and how we can deliver and optimise new kinds of recycling technology for example.”
Understanding the challenges ahead
For the 4evergreen alliance, as well as UPM and the other companies involved, this new initiative is a first in Europe. While the first year 2020 was about setting the targets, and understanding the challenges, 2021 has been about how the work can help increase collection and achieve the collecting of those materials that currently do not fit into the recycling loop so that the 90% recyclability rate can be achieved by 2030.
According to Mikko Rissanen, Director of Technology at UPM Specialty Papers, the time as part of the alliance has achieved some successes that will lead to greater rewards in the future. “For us at UPM,” he says, “the most valuable element in terms of the way forward are these new circularity-by-design guidelines that are there for the development of new types of packaging materials, so that they would not be too difficult to recycle, and yet provide enough protective properties, as well as also find a home in the future recycling infrastructure.”
“Here everything needs to go in a coherent way so that the design guidelines and then the development of the recycling infrastructure should be clearly aligned, and I think this is now what is being done in these different workstreams. In addition, the innovation dealing with the sorting technology and pre-treating of the waste streams so that they are easier to fit into the recycling infrastructure without complexity on the collection side, may prove to be some sort of holy grail that everybody is hoping for with respect to the consumer, in terms of everything getting simpler, as well providing a viable second life for the materials.”
According to Susanne, co-operation, and communication between people in the alliance will be key. “This is not just about technical things; it is also about people. The people in very different companies as part of the 4evergreen alliance need to understand each other and realise that they are dependent on each other. In an alliance like this, everyone is aware that they must move a little out of the comfort zone – so that all can make a big leap ahead together. But the big question is who moves first?”
To that end, the firm ambition of 4evergreen moving forward is tied to its need to present concrete solutions, clear guidelines, and a defined protocol to the EU policy makers, to show that the fibre-based packaging industry is going the extra mile and is ready to be a dominant enabler of the circular bioeconomy. The alliance is also proud of the fact that it is bringing different groups together with different approaches and perspectives.
Concludes Haase, “As a founding member, UPM has been playing an important role in the alliance since the beginning. Company representatives are actively participating in several workstreams, sharing information, best practices – and driving innovation. UPM is actively contributing to the progress by bringing in their highly-valuable experts in the technical workstreams as well as in the expert group on advocacy. And amongst her peers, Emilia Moisio certainly has an elevated role as she is one of the five representatives of the 4evergreen Pulp, Paper and board makers segment in the Steering Group, overseeing the strategic direction and closely monitoring the performance and supporting the progress of the workstreams.”