The journal - forming a stone paper alliance

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February 29, 2024
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The Stone Paper Alliance is a group of kindred spirits that share a vision: a paper industry that plants trees instead of cutting them down. It’s a growing group of people, companies, and organizations committed to creating the first circular stone paper system on European soil. And, like all ideas that seem impossible, it starts with one crazy man who believes it is possible. Yours truly. 

In this blog, I will first talk about how it all started and recap the steps I made in 2023 to start the alliance. And now, in 2024, I will document the steps as we take them each month. It's one of those rare blogs you might want to read in reverse chronological order. That said. If you're here for the first time, scroll down to see what happened in 2023, and I’ll meet you back here again. 

2024: March

It’s been a month of first breakthroughs. We made big steps with the local stone paper production. Here are some highlights of the month.

The Water Companies

Brabant Water, whose waste calcium is bought by Aquaminerals, put me in touch with Ronny Theunen. Turns out he was not working for Aquaminerals anymore, but the good news is that he moved to a position in the next step of the chain, the buyer and dryer of the calcium. They are the only ones buying all the calcium from all water companies. They dry and crunch it, making it clean and usable for potentially stone paper or cardboard. We made an appointment for April. To be continued. 

Eggshells waste steam

Next to the waste stream of the Water Companies, there is another waste stream worth looking at - that of egg shelves. While visiting the Dutch Design Week we met a company that uses eggshells in India to create lamps. Through this contact, we found a similar company in the Netherlands: Eggxpert. They use the membrane of eggshells to create a product for skin care and are researching other applications. The eggshells are potentially 100% calcium carbonate and therefore suitable for stone paper or cardboard. Eggxpert committed to setting up a subsidized test to learn how to dry and crush the eggshells to use in stone paper. 

Plastic not fantastic

Through Ronny Theunen we also got in contact with Roy Drezen. A plastic expert who is now working on bioplastics. Different plastics have different use-cases, and we need to test which one could potentially replace the HDPE in stone paper. Biodegradable plastic for instance sounds good, but if you want to use the notebook for years, you do not want the notebook to start degrading halfway through its lifespan. Also every plastic has a different recyclability, bindability and price. And to mix it with stone paper, it needs multiple tests to find the perfect fit. To not overcomplicate the project it makes most sense to start with the local stone paper production the same way it’s done in Taiwan and to later improve the plastic component into a more sustainable one. The research could potentially be very costly and we know the current ingredient mixture is easy to recycle (however HDPE is a virgin plastic, so you rather replace the virgin aspect).

Banking and prices

To get a big financer on board we first talked with the Triodos Regenerative Money Fund. After the first talk, they changed their investment aims and they are no longer interested in working together to create a sustainable paper industry. We then reached out to Rabobank and after hearing about the problem and our proposed solution their first response was extreme enthusiasm. Rabobank is now internally discussing the possibility of joining the Stone Paper Alliance. 

We also joined the Koning Willem 1 Prijs but we had not been selected for the top 12. After joining the award show it was clear to me that they are mainly awarding existing proof of concepts, so I feel the Alliance needs to make a few additional steps before being considered relevant. Next year, new chances. 

Little big secrets

On a bi-monthly basis I check in with another stone paper notebook manufacturer from the Netherlands. We always discuss progress made within the industry and learn from each other. She told me about a lot of little (BIG) dirty secrets about the paper industry that are not known to the public. It’s many times worse than you would expect and there is much more money involved to keep this from the public than you would expect. The details I unfortunately did not get due to NDA’s signed by the whistleblowers from the industry. Hoping to one day be able to show it to the world. 

2024: February

February was all about follow-up meetings.

I had a second call with Circulair in West. They aspire to take the leading role in connecting circular parties in the West of the Netherlands. We decided it was too early to join right now. But they would introduce us to Dunea as a first step.

The week after, I had two calls with large office suppliers. They explained that they are transitioning their 100+ notebooks into sustainable notebooks. The most important reason for this was that they wanted to offer their clients the sustainable solutions they demanded. We are currently in the process of co-creating a notebook for them that fits their customer needs.

Last but not least, I talked with Brabant Water. A few things stood out that put us on the right track. First, one of the main problems of water cleaning companies is the paper industry. It is a big water consumer that reduces water levels and delivers highly polluted water back to be cleaned by the water company. And second, the waste product of the water cleaning companies is Calcium Carbonate. Some companies even filter out microplastics and turn them into HDPE plastic. Coincidently, this type of plastic is a binding element in stone paper. So basically, we are killing two birds with one stone by reducing paper production:

  1. Eases the pressure on the water cleaning companies
  2. Use their waste streams to help create stone paper. 

Brabant Water linked us to 2 new parties. One buys & cleans calcium carbonate, and the other is a plastic recycler that buys calcium carbonate to mix in plastics. To be continued.

2024: January

With the Stone Paper Alliance officially born, it was time to start talking about it and get more stakeholders on board. We kickstarted the year by translating a long vision document into a short Stone Paper Manifesto. And I started to reach out to my whole network, asking them to spread the word, and I even screamed it from the top of the roof.

Next up on my to-do list was to investigate if there would be a demand for non-erasable stone paper notebooks. While MOYU is all about erasable notebooks, we have heard a lot of big companies in the past argue that they would switch to stone paper stationary if the price was significantly lower. Non-erasable stone paper has a much lower production price. It could increase the local demand for stone paper products to create a better business case for a European stone paper factory.

I created an interview script for office suppliers to learn more about the stationary market and arranged 7 meetings that will take place in the coming months.

Meanwhile, active networking is starting to pay off. At an ABN AMBRO bank event, I met with Circulair in West, a network organization that supports local initiatives around the circular economy. After getting to know them, I got linked to Dunea, a water company that just launched an initiative to see how they can support companies in saving water, a needed scarce resource that is shrinking.

I also met with a subsidy intermediary to help us raise money for the Stone Paper Alliance, but with no result. The initial 50k we forecasted for the first year to do research wasn’t interesting enough for them to start a project. They needed a bigger investment to justify putting time into a subsidy proposal.

The lesson I learned from this? Some parties in the market offer to help companies get funding from the government, but they are primarily driven by their goal to make money rather than getting funds into purposeful projects.

End of January, I had a short check-in with the BAM group. They just finished another circular project and announced they had more time to set up a new project. It is great to hear that they see potential in doing something with their stone waste, which would be a great source material for local production of stone paper stationery.

2023: How it all started 

Every realization of a dream starts with people sharing it. After years of working in the Stone Paper world, I knew that the dream of our partner Gaia, the importer of stone paper, was to set up local recycling and production in Europe. I offered to help! MOYUs started from a dream to see a world full of green, and everything we did was always with nature in mind. Having a local facility we could access would allow us to reduce our environmental impact even more, so it was a no-brainer for me. 

One day in September 2022, I went to a networking event organized by the United Economy. The assignment we got was to go for a walk in the forest with someone in the group. For some reason, I immediately made eye contact with Antoine Heideveld from “Het Groene Brein”. We were asked to share our dreams, and after telling her about my dream for a circular paper industry, Antoine said: “That’s basically what we do at Het Groene Brein.” We connect entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, and governments to start circular initiatives. 

We immediately followed up and planned a first session in which Gaia and MOYU were both invited to share the vision of a circular paper industry with other curious minds.

Right before that first Alliance meeting, Triodos Bank contacted us, and we got invited together with Paper on the Rocks to discuss “paper”. Triodos mentioned they foresaw the systemic change needed in the industry and asked us to think along about what was needed to get it going. No conclusions were drawn from the meeting, other than the confirmation that the largest sustainable Dutch bank saw the paper problem and was looking and willing to invest in sustainable solutions. 

Our first Alliance meeting planned by Het Groene Brein was the day after we spoke with Triodos. They invited about 15 people from the field, each with a different expertise: experienced entrepreneurs, scientists in circularity, large corporates like BAM, and financing circular business specialists. After presenting our plans, one of the entrepreneurs said: “I’ve been following this industry for quite some time, and I was hoping to meet some people who would pick up this problem. Finally! Thanks for making this start.” And from that moment on, I was determined to create a circular stone paper system in Europe.

"I was hoping to meet some people who would pick up this problem. Finally! Thanks for making this start.” - Sustainability Entrepreneur

After this high-energy meeting, we took some time to think of a proper follow-up. We wanted to talk to potential buyers of paper and cardboard, producers of similar materials, waste management companies, recyclers, suppliers of materials, and potential financiers. After about 10 talks with different companies, we concluded the next steps. 

In “theory” all our wishes are possible. There was a demand for stone paper. Local production is possible. Logistics are doable, and local recyclability of stone paper seemed like a plausible option. However, it was a challenge, to say the least, to transform this into a concrete step-by-step plan for the big players if we were to create a systemic change. 

We believe in a “show don’t tell” mentality, so we decided that instead of making the grand master plan, we would demonstrate that a bottom-up systematic change is possible and financially feasible. We would need a good business case and a necessary dose of governmental pressure, so I started working out a shared vision document with our main partner, Gaia. 

We wrote what an alliance should look like and made a plan of attack for 2024 to work on some essential first steps. Then, I translated a 5-page document into a short blog post: initiation of a Stone Papar Alliance.

Time to scroll up January 2024: the birth of Stone Paper Manifesto

Me, Paul and our inner Stone Paper Warrior voice brainstorming ideas

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