71% of paper and 82% of paper-based packaging is recycled into new products
The paper revolution
The paper recycling rate in Europe was 71.4% in 2021, keeping fibres in the loop longer and extending the benefits of their renewable origin. This is approaching the practical maximum recycling rate of 78%.
In some regions, recycling rates can reach up to 80%, which is probably the maximum rate from a practical perspective. This is because some paper products cannot be recovered for recycling because they are kept for long periods of time (books) or archived (records); others are destroyed or contaminated when used (e.g. tissue and hygiene paper).
Paper is recycled on average 3.5 times a year in Europe. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely as fibres get too short and worn out and therefore can no longer be used in creating new paper. Hence, virgin fibres from trees are needed to continue the cycle. These new fibres come from renewable, sustainably-managed forests and continue the loop.
71% of paper and 82% of paper-based packaging in Europe is recycled into new productsCEPI, 2021 + Eurostat, 2020
56% of the fibre used to make paper and paper packaging in Europe comes from paper for recyclingCEPI, 2020
Paper for recycling is an essential raw material
To maintain quality, it’s important that paper is collected separately from other materials. It can then be sorted and graded to determine the end uses it will be suitable for. Then, the recovered paper will be mixed with water so that the fibres can be recovered. During this process, contaminants are removed, the fibres cleaned and, if necessary, ink is removed. The resulting pulp may then be used to produce 100% recycled paper, or mixed with virgin fibre depending on the quality characteristics required.
Recycled and virgin fibre are complementary
Both recycled and virgin fibre have benefits. When compared to the manufacture of virgin fibre, production of recycled pulp generally requires less energy consumption and has lower emissions to air. Yet virgin fibre production typically uses more renewable energy and creates less solid waste. However, because virgin and recycled fibres are interdependent, it is very difficult to reliably compare their environmental attributes. In practice, recycled fibre would not exist if virgin fibre were not sustainably harvested and societal demands for paper and board products could not be met without both.
Fibre can be recycled several times, yet not indefinitely. Therefore, there is a continuous need to feed the inflow of recovered fibre with paper products made of virgin pulp.
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