The Big Green Dream

Écrit par:
Roel Schatorjé
Publié le:
January 17, 2024
Temps de lecture:
Pour toute question:

What if we could redefine the paper industry by leaving nature untouched? What if we could live in a world where local waste materials transform into products easily recyclable within our communities? What if we supported nature not by cutting down trees but by reforesting, creating a sustainability cycle? That’s the vision I have.

This audacious dream may seem like fantasy, especially considering the centuries-old traditions of the paper industry. Yet, what if we dared to challenge the status quo? What if we could revolutionize not just paper, but any industry? Join me in imagining and creating a sector dedicated to doing good in the next paragraphs.

The paper industry anno 2024 (and anno 105 A.D.)

Go back in time to 105 AD in China, where the roots of paper production were first established. Fast forward some centuries and you come across a sector that harvests the trees, cooks them in water, makes sheets and then dries them - a process that remains the same from the old woodcut instructions. Despite a few adjustments, such as the addition of bleach to get that immaculate white or other additives for specific characteristics, the essence has remained true to tradition.

By the 1700s, things had become more industrialized and volumes exploded. However, the processes stayed surprisingly consistent. Of course, efficiency has improved and we have reduced water and energy consumption, but the core process has remained rooted in history. (and believe me, there was a lot to win).

Now, let's talk about what’s happening today and our biggest concern – deforestation. The paper industry, hungry for trees, has been a major driver, contributing to 13-15% of global deforestation. That's not all; it's also a heavyweight in the CO2 emissions game, sitting comfortably at #3 with a 7% share. And don't get me started on the water consumption – 2-13 liters per A4 sheet, not to mention the energy and the bleach party.

And then? That sheet of paper you casually use for printing, writing, cleaning, or packaging? We toss it away like there’s no tomorrow because recycling exists, and that makes it sustainable, right?

Paper waste, photo by Etienne Girardet

Unfortunately, the truth is not so funny. Paper can only be recycled two to seven times, and the recycling process requires new pulp, water and chemicals. Recycling, although admirable, may only be giving us the illusion of sustainability.

Some facts about a growing paper industry

  • 93% of paper comes from trees
  • 50% of office waste consists of paper
  • Packaging makes up ⅓ of our waste
  • All offices in the U.S. together use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper per year
  • 26% of the waste mountain consists of paper
  • Due to digitalization, it was expected that paper consumption would decrease, but it is actually increasing and is expected to double before 2030

Our road to a solution

We're not talking about finding just "a" sustainable solution; we're diving into a world of "more" sustainable alternatives. To summarize a better solution we look for:

  1. The use of (local / waste) materials with local production
  2. A quality that's off the charts, making our products outlast the competition
  3. An improvement in the reusability of the materials after end-of-life

Imagine this wild scenario: an old office building gets demolished and instead of letting it fall into the dust, we crush these waste stones into a powdery masterpiece. Mix this magic powder with some recycled plastic and voila! We've just generated the raw material for all the paper needed for the shiny new office building that's emerging from the ruins. That's not just sustainable; it's game-changing!

The focus area

The currently available and greenest solution is stone paper. Stone paper is currently produced in Taiwan and consists of 80% calcium carbonate (stone) and 20% HDPE (plastic). It's like a dynamic duo, with stone as a solid partner and HDPE as a reliable binder.

What limestone looks like, photo by Dylan McLeod

But wait, there's more: Stone paper is water-repellent and tear-resistant, making it sturdier and more durable in use. No trees, water or chemicals are used for production and less energy and CO2 emissions are used.

If 1000 kg of pulp paper is replaced by 1000 kg of stone paper, this results in a saving of:

  • 18 trees
  • 2,770 liters of water
  • 949 kg CO2 (67% less)
  • 17.3 GJ energy (85% less)

Additionally, in theory, stone paper is easier to recycle because it contains no fibres and therefore the fibres cannot shorten and there is no demand for fresh pulp in the recycling process. The current stone paper from Taiwan has a cradle-to-cradle certificate.

The circular chain

We are diving into a new adventure. Our only goal is to drastically reduce the 7% Co2 emissions of the paper industry. If we manage to get 40% of our current paper production to come from waste streams, we’ll be taking a huge 2% cut in global Co2 emissions. That’s an equivalent of the total airline industry!

Now, in our battle against this giant industry, we have pinpointed 4 focus areas with 2 supporting areas, shown in the graph below. Let’s take a closer look at these.

Circular paper industry

Supply: At MOYU we kicked things off on the supply front, introducing a game-changing erasable notebook that hardly produced any waste. As a next step, we need to increase the supply of stone paper products (and work together with other producers) to fill the market with stone paper goodness. Why? Because, let’s face it, recyclers are more likely to invest in recycling when there is an increasing volume on the mix. So get ready to buy stone paper as we swap more pulp paper products for their eco-friendly equivalents.

Collect: If we produce products there should also be a collection. You know how regular paper waste gets picked up at neighbourhoods and companies with those special paper bins? Well, we’re dreaming big for stone paper too. Picture this: Convenient collection points at businesses of stores where you can drop off your used products. It’s a stepping stone towards a sustainable future.

Recycle: We are currently testing and tweaking the recycling part with our partners. One way to do it is to recycle the paper back into pallets and use them in other streams, like cement. That’s the first step. In an ideal world these pallets would come full circle, transforming back into new paper, but for that, we’d need a heap of local stone pallets to make it happen.

Demand: Now, let’s talk about demand. We are exploring at the production side, scouting for local stone waste streams and plotting out our dream production setups, be it paper or cardboard. In an ideal world we would have many small local production and recycling facilities per city or province in Europe. 

Knowledge & Finance: While it might not be in the graph, we are asking for the support of governments and universities to unlock the full potential of the circular paper sector. For this we also need extra financial support, whether it’s through grants or subsidies to initiate non commercial research. Also lobbying at governmental level will be required. 

What we have done

Will you join us?

Here’s the lowdown on our MOYU journey - we’ve kicked things off by introducing our plan with partners from “Het Groene Brein”, and the excitement is real! We have several verbal agreements to help wherever needed in the rollout. Researchers, financiers and producers are all jumping on board. We’ve connected with 30 potential partners, covering all 6 key fields.

The result? The birth of a slick “stone paper alliance” document, eagerly awaiting for those game-changing signatures.

Fast forward to 2024 - we’ve set some ambitious goals for this year:

  1. Get recycling up & running.
  2. Introduce cardboard from stone paper, preferably in a B2B proposition.
  3. Set up the organization and raise funding.

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