The cartonboard and carton industry have a great environmental story to tell. Cartons are made from a renewable resource, compostable and easily recyclable, with decreasing production emissions.
The original raw material used for carton manufacture is wood fibre from sustainably managed forests. Additionally, at the end of life, cartons are collected and recycled and form a secondary raw material. About 49% of cartons in Europe are made from virgin fibre and 51% from recycled fibre.
Sustainable Forest Management
Around 80% of the wood fibres used in the European paper and board industry come from European forests, mainly in Sweden and Finland. European forests used by the paper and board industry are sustainable since annual growth of new wood exceeds the amount harvest by a large margin. Each year, European forests increase in size by an area equivalent to more than twice the size of London, or to put it another way 1,500 football pitches per day! Forest owners and operators carefully manage forests and can prove this through certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council FSC ® and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification PEFC™.
The paper and board industry uses forest thinnings and only part of the mature tree: the small diameter tops of large trees and saw mill waste. No tropical rain forests are destroyed in order to make paper and board.
Recovery and Recycling
Folding cartons can easily be recycled by reprocessing in a mill, where the fibres are separated. The recovered fibre is then used to make cartonboard or another paper or board product. Alternatively, they can either be composted, a process also known as “organic recycling”, or if recycling is no longer a viable option, their energy content can be recovered in an energy-from-waste incinerator.
For recycling to happen, the packaging waste must be recovered, i.e. collected and sent to a mill. Cartons together with other paper products may be segregated in the home, or other point of disposal, and either collected or taken to a collecting location. Efficient recovery and recycling systems are in place in Europe which deliver excellent results: paper and board is the most recycled packaging material in the EU with a recycling rate of 85%, based on 2016 data from Eurostat.
Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas and a major contributor to climate change. Cartons’ raw material comes from sustainably managed trees which grow by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing carbon – this process is measured in terms of biogenic carbon. By removing carbon from the atmosphere trees help to reverse the greenhouse effect and this filtering process delivers a sustainable, renewable, bio-based raw material for cartons.
The carbon footprint of cartons is the measurement of the effect of their production process on the environment. Pro Carton has measured the European cartonboard and carton industry’s production processes over several years and has recorded its improving environmental performance and a year on year decrease in its carbon footprint.
The European pulp, paper and board industry is a leader in sustainable energy use. 56% of all primary energy used in the industry is biomass based, with the wood by-products providing renewable energy in the form of electricity and steam for the manufacturing process. It is the largest producer and consumer of biomass based energy – 20% of the EU total – thus avoiding the use of non-renewable energy sources such as fossil-based oil, coal or gas.
Water is an essential element for paper and board production and is usually taken by a mill from a nearby surface source such as a lake or river. 95% of the water used in the European industry is cleaned and reused on site. All waste water is purified at the mill in accordance with European regulations and standards, before being returned to the environment. Mills are working to reduce process water use as this makes good economic as well as environmental sense and the trend over the past two decades has been to reduce fresh water withdrawal by 20% in total volume.