How does the actual fibre-based packaging recycling process work?
Once fibre-based packaging is collected and sorted, it goes through the actual recycling process. That way, the extracted fibres are reprocessed and find their way into new products, which is the added value.
Firstly, one has to pulp the collected paper and packaging. This process is a similar procedure to the one performed to manufacture paper made from fresh-fibres. The paper waste is dissolved in water during this process and slushed into a pulp, while sizable non-fibrous contaminants are discarded. The substance resulting from the fibre-cleaning process is filtered and screened multiple times.
Furthermore, during recycling one has to remove the ink from some papers in a flotation process called de-inking. Air is blown into the solution, and the ink adheres to bubbles of air and rises to the surface from where it is separated. The result is a fibrous material called recycled pulp that needs to be pressed and dried. At this point, the pulp is ready to be made into paper.
However, fibres cannot be recycled forever because they lose their paper-making qualities. A certain quantity of fresh fibres needs to be incorporated in the recycling stream. Without fresh fibres there would not be recycled fibres.
Moreover, there are also two main challenges to consider during the fibre-based packaging recycling process: the functional properties of packaging and the heterogeneous collection process.
On the one hand, it has to be taken into account some functional properties are needed from some kinds of packaging. In some cases, packaging requires to be coated, laminated, or treated in other ways to meet the different barriers or functional requirements for product protection, which can be more challenging for the recycling process.
On the other hand, as mentioned in a previous article, the heterogeneous collection mechanisms across Europe can also provide a challenge. Some countries collect all paper-based packaging in one stream. Other countries differentiate a separate paper and board fraction and collect some paper-based packaging along with the lightweight packaging stream. Provided that appropriate collection and sorting is organised, literally all paper packaging can be recycled.
The recycling process should be considered at an early stage of the packaging design and take into account the intended purpose and end-of-life of the packaging to optimise the recycling process. 4evergreen aims to increase the overall recycling rate of fibre-based packaging as well as optimising the circularity of fibre-based packaging. Our aim is to raise the overall recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. That is why we are developing a standardised, publicly available, Recyclability Evaluation Protocol for fibre-based packaging, which will identify the fibre-based materials to be recycled and their appropriate technology.
 Building a coherent circular economy: The view from the industry | Article | Packaging Europe
 European Paper Recycling Council (2020): Monitoring Report 2020. Available: WEB-PAGES_EPRC-Monitoring-Report-2020_20210716.pdf (cepi.org)