The majority of processed wood pulp comes from Scandinavian and Canadian forests. The results of these activities are dwindling stocks and the emergence of monoculture forests that are far more likely to be damaged by pests and bad weather conditions. In contrast, not a single tree needs to be felled for recycled paper. The pressure to use our forests as a source of raw materials is huge. This pressure is, however, greatly reduced by recycling old paper. Moreover, 60 percent less energy and up to 70 percent less water are needed to produce recycled paper compared to the production of paper from fresh pulp. Recycling paper generates much less CO2 and reduces volumes of waste and emissions. Far fewer chemicals are needed for the recycling process than for producing paper with virgin fibres. The amount of pollutants in the wastewater is up to ten times lower.
„Of all the raw materials able to be recycled, it is old paper that contributes the most towards protecting our environment and preventing climate change. REMONDIS is doing everything in its power to increase the amount of recycled paper used by the paper production industry.“
Thorsten Feldt, Managing Director of REMONDIS Trade and Sales GmbH
All very good reasons, therefore, for recycling as much old paper as possible. Looking at the advantages of recycled paper, it is a mystery why manufacturers of paper tissues, kitchen roll and toilet paper are once again increasingly using virgin fibres in their production processes even though these single-use products will not be able to be sent for high quality recycling. REMONDIS has been talking to its partners and to politicians, calling for the amount of recycled paper currently being used to remain at a stable rate or even for it to be increased. Germany has always been a pioneer in this area and this is a role we should not give up lightly. The numbers truly are impressive.
In 2014, each person in Germany used, on average, 251 kilograms of paper and cardboard. Together, this adds up to a total 20.4 million tonnes. If this demand were covered by new paper alone, then three trees would have to be felled per person per year. Thank goodness the country has a recycling sector, as the waste management companies collected 15.1 million tonnes of old paper in the same year. This puts the paper recovery rate at around 74 percent – an impressive figure, especially when you consider that, since the record year in 2007, consumption fell by 13 % as a result of the economic turmoil of the following few years.
Every tonne of recycled waste paper helps to protect our planet’s natural resources and curb global warming.
Throughout this time, recycling rates remained stable. More than one-tenth of the total volume of old paper – around 2.2 million tonnes – is collected, sorted and recycled by REMONDIS alone every year. To be able to do this, the company has a network of logistics systems and facilities at 126 different locations. REMONDIS’ six state-of-the-art sorting plants carefully separate the 40 different categories of old paper strictly according to type. The company’s paper recycling operations, therefore, are making a considerable contribution towards protecting our planet’s natural resources and preventing climate change. The maths is simple: if more old paper is collected and recycled, then fewer trees need to be felled. But what exactly is the difference between recycled paper and paper made from virgin fibres?
Recycled paper can contain up to 100 % waste paper. When paper is recycled, the old paper is first mixed with water and any non-paper materials, such as paper clips, removed. The ink is then extracted from the waste paper using the so-called de-inking process. A number of different chemicals are added here to wash this grey pulp. They disperse the ink particles, causing them to latch on to the soap which rises to the surface as foam where it is suctioned off. Short fibres are removed to ensure the paper remains tear-resistant. During the next stage, the pulp is bleached with oxygen or hydrogen peroxide. The acids and lye used during the de-inking process are far less harmful than the chemicals used to produce wood pulp. For the most part, recycled paper is bleached again with oxygen to make it even whiter. The days when recycled paper was synonymous with a low-quality grey product are long gone. Consumers can hardly notice the difference nowadays thanks to the environmentally friendly bleaching methods now being employed.
Virgin fibre paper is made from wood. Approximately 50 % of wood is made up of cellulose fibres, the most important source material for producing paper. Other contents found in wood include lignin and hemicellulose that act as a kind of glue binding the cellulose fibres together. Large volumes of energy and water are needed to extract the individual fibres from the wood. Wood pulp is produced by using chemicals to separate the cellulose from the other contents in the wood. The result is pure wood pulp paper, so-called “wood-free paper”. “Wood free”, however, does not mean that wood was not needed to make the paper but that the wood contents – namely lignin and the hemicellulose – have been extracted from the pulp with solvents. In contrast, paper made from pulp produced using mechanical pulping processes contains lignin and hemicellulose. This type of paper is less stable and turns yellow more quickly.
REMONDIS’ newest business, WEKO, specialises in high quality waste paper.
The more environmentally friendly alternative is without doubt to use waste paper to produce recycled paper. As a general rule, paper fibres can be recycled up to six times. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in Berlin has calculated that 50 % fewer raw materials are needed to produce paper from waste paper compared to paper production using virgin fibres. Energy consumption is also 50 % lower and water consumption a third of that required for virgin fibre paper. Not only is waste paper an eco-friendly source material for manufacturing paper, it is generated by practically every single household and business in the country. Recycling waste paper gives it a new lease of life, fewer trees need to be felled and energy and water can be saved. Nowadays, recycled paper is as white as non-recycled paper, available in a whole range of qualities and is suitable for practically all household products.
Every single tonne of waste paper that is collected and recycled, therefore, helps to protect our planet’s natural resources and curb global warming. Around two-thirds of all paper and cardboard products are already being made from waste paper. Many types of packaging are made solely from waste paper. Global demand for old paper is steadily rising. Manufacturers of paper and cardboard products need to know that there are sufficient supplies of waste paper as a raw material and that the quality is right. Being one of the largest companies in the waste paper industry, REMONDIS has been investing large sums of money in logistics and sorting technology across Germany to ensure it will be able to continue to supply the volumes and qualities required.
Annual global consumption is expected to have risen from today’s 350 million tonnes to up to 440 million tonnes of paper by the end of this decade
REMONDIS operates a number of high performance paper sorting plants, including Wertstoff Union Berlin (WUB), which it runs together with Berlin Recycling. This plant is able to process up to 120,000 tonnes of old paper generated by those living and working in and around Berlin every year. Both its plant in Frankfurt – run by FES, REMONDIS’ biggest PPP – and its plant in Cologne Merkenich also have an annual capacity of 120,000 tonnes. Other paper sorting facilities can be found in Ravensburg and Buggingen. All of these facilities are so-called de-inking sorting plants. From here, waste paper collected from households is separated into three main categories: mixed paper, paper/cardboard from shops as well as de-ink products from newspapers, magazines and graphic papers.
The technology used to sort waste paper will also have to be adapted to meet the changing market conditions
In 2015, REMONDIS purchased WEKO GmbH, a company based in the German city of Buttlar in the district of Thuringia. Thanks to this acquisition, it now has a further state-of-the-art sorting plant in its network that specialises in printing waste and high quality waste paper. WEKO also has a further facility in Fulda. WEKO has been recycling and trading in old paper for over 20 years now and has made a name for itself across the country as an independent recycling business, in particular for high quality waste paper. REMONDIS’ newest business supplies the paper industry with around 600,000 tonnes of high quality recycled paper every year.
The amount of paper being used around the world is growing all the time. Experts believe that annual global consumption will have risen from today’s 350 million tonnes of paper to up to 440 million tonnes of paper by the end of this decade. The majority of waste paper is generated by households and the composition of this material is gradually changing. This change will have a huge effect on the market over the next ten years. The rapid growth in online sales – also referred to as the “Amazon effect” – will mean that more and more cardboard will be found in the old paper containers. This trend is already well underway. More containers will be needed as cardboard tends to take up more space which will push up the collection costs and affect the whole of the supply chain. Additional compactor capacities must be made available as well as an ever-growing number of customer-specific solutions. The whole of the sorting process will have to be adapted to meet the steadily changing composition of waste paper streams which means the paper sorting activities in the future will be very different to those of today. New sorting concepts will have to be found as quality expectations and product requirements – for example for food packaging – will also continue to rise.
With all this in mind, the way municipal tenders are increasingly being used to pass these risks on to private-sector businesses can only be viewed with scepticism. On the one hand, local authorities are not prepared to guarantee a certain quality of material. On the other hand, they expect to receive payment for grades of paper that need several treatment stages and so are costly to recycle. A further problem is the basis being used for collecting data. Increasingly, indices such as the index of the Federal Office of Statistics are being deployed which are totally unsuitable for achieving meaningful calculations. There is a complete lack of transparency throughout the system concerning who reports the volumes, how many tonnes are included (weighted or unweighted tonnage) and who monitors the reports. Such rough calculations are not at all suitable for finding a fair market price.
Prospects for growth are particularly good at international level. Experts believe that the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will find their volumes of waste paper rising as more and more of their citizens have access to education. There is also potential in many European countries to increase the volumes of waste paper collected. This is where politicians must play their part and set high recycling rates across Europe so that the private sector can invest in the infrastructure for collecting and sorting old paper.
The rapid growth in online sales is changing the waste paper market.
REMONDIS already operates across the whole of Germany, drawing up bespoke sorting and recycling concepts with its partners and customers. With its team of highly qualified specialists, REMONDIS already has an excellent set-up enabling it to react flexibly to any changes to the market.
Sources: REMONDIS, Umweltinstitut München e.V. (Munich Environmental Institute), bvse Fachverband Papierrecycling (Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Management/Paper Recycling Committee), UBA (Federal Environment Agency), Stiftung Unternehmen Wald (a forest conservation organisation), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)