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Combating climate change by moving from linear to circular economy

To achieve climate positive targets, the transition to a circular economy is a prerequisite. We must make the shift from the traditional take, make, waste system to truly circular business models. 

Building a circular economy is more than reducing, reusing and recycling. It is a complex mix of interdependent activities and actions for how raw materials are sourced and managed, how products are designed, made and used, and how materials are handled afterwards. There are technological, regulatory, sustainability and market driven considerations along the way, not to mention the need for collaboration and even standardization across the value chain. Aligning on circularity over the whole product life cycle should be a common goal across value chains. Alongside our agenda at Stora Enso, we believe co-operation is a key driver for making circular economy a reality. 

Replacing fossil-based materials is key for a circular economy

A circular economy is only possible when raw materials are also circular – materials that can be renewed over and over again. This requires that fossil-based materials are replaced with renewable materials such as wood. In other words, resources that can be replenished, generation after generation, in a sustainable way. Wood-based products are renewable because trees grow back when forests are sustainably managed, and this is the first step in a circular system.

As trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 that is bonded in the fiber remains bonded when the fiber is converted into paperboard, packaging and new products made after recycling.

For many of Stora Enso’s customers and consumers, working for a better world often means switching to board packaging to lower the climate impact. Fiber-based packaging is the fastest growing packaging format globally, and now fibre-based packaging has for the first time grown faster than plastic alternatives. Ideally, circular economy forms a closed loop, where everything that is consumed can be reused or recycled into something new time after time without creating any waste.

When it comes to fibre-based packaging, designing for circular economy is our starting point. We support the change through our knowledge and by developing materials and solutions that enable easy recycling and contribute to the circular economy in Europe and globally. 

Recycling and collection system is still fragmented

In terms of recycling and waste management, the recycling industry and its value chains are very regulated. In Europe, the European Commission has waste and packaging directives which serve as legal frameworks. There are also national laws and local implementations. As a result, there’s not one infrastructure and recycling scheme or blueprint that’s applied everywhere. So, when it comes to circularity, the packaging design process needs to consider the legislation and recycling infrastructure of each specific market.

Another consideration is waste collection, and procedures are not standardized from market to market. In some countries the situation is quite good, and all consumers have access to separate collection bins for different types of packaging, but for many countries there’s lots of work to be done to ensure consistency.

Stora Enso has a target to design packaging materials and packages to be 100% recyclable. But for true circularity to happen, it requires that the waste collection system also enables fiber-based packaging to be collected separately from residual waste, and that consumers do their part in putting the used and empty packaging into the right bin. It is important to drive local value chain collaborations and work very closely with local partners to create systems to enable circularity. 

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