Paper city mills are leading the positive change to reduce waste via increased recycling and utilization of side streams. Smart utilization of recoverable resources brings novel ecosystems into the cities alongside the people living in them. These novel ecosystems include the recycling of water and paper, with improved energy efficiency and waste reduction. This is a true multiple-WIN scenario for all. These city mills truly reuse large streams from people’s everyday activities (paper, board, and water), providing an opportunity to use less valuable resources via recycling.
Long traditions in paper-making have changed
Traditionally main raw material has been wood and paper mills have therefore been located near forests and the energy is sourced from either wood or water streams. As the raw material recovery has increased, the location of the units has been more efficient to change to be nearer the users living in the cities. This has brought new possibilities.
The raw material has changed (but is still fiber-based)
The raw material recovery has increased over the last few decades from the negligible level of the 1950s to the current European recycling rate of 72%. Recovered paper is collected from various sources like paper converters, printers, and distributors. It also comes from used paper products from shops, consumers in private homes, offices, and institutional settings. The used paper collection is a successful business venture, especially in densely populated countries with high paper consumption per capita. People of the cities have made this change toward the circular economy possible.
P&P industry products are used in many sectors and combined with other materials. Many of the consumption habits for the products are ‘built-in’ at a societal level. One of the largest sectors is the food industry.
…needs are changing at an increasing rate
New generations consume paper differently to the generations before them, and as they age, the total demand for paper and board changes. The substitution of paper in many applications, such as advertising and communication, has changed with the Internet. For packaging applications, the need is growing. Tighter legislation, e.g. landfill taxes, will influence production costs, putting pressure on developing products that contain zero waste and higher recycling potential. Fiber scarcity in some areas is already a reality, putting pressure on developing new applications with lower fiber use.
Work has been done to prepare for this change
Three larger steps were made: In the first step at the academic level, strong (raw materials, water, energy, and chemicals) management expertise was built. This management expertise was needed to function in a more enclosed environment with energy and raw material stream optimization using energy- and resource-efficient production technologies. This work was funded by Tekes (Cactus and Process-Integration programs). These programs aimed to build strong raw materials, water, energy, and chemical management expertise in a more enclosed environment combined with energy and raw material stream optimization. This created the necessary foundation for slow change, which is typical of large production facilities. In addition to this, the EffNet program has focused on a completely new type of energy- and resource-efficient production technology for web products and designed fiber-based production concepts and new products that help to reduce the environmental impact of the mills.
The second step was taken at the industrial level. This work used the base that was created, and production units were made that could implement the change efficiently. As an example of this new efficient way, Holmen Paper Madrid sets the standard when it comes to paper and recycling, turning old into new in just a few seconds. At this unit, production is based 100 percent on recycling of recovered paper; with the production process also using 100 percent recovered and treated water. This work continues, e.g., in on-going projects like Reffibre  (funded by EU, FP7), started in November 2013, and is aimed at developing tools tested with innovative concepts, including fractionation of input materials and production of novel products from side streams.
The third step, which is now starting, is the strategic level shift, which extends beyond the individual company. This step requires a strong commitment from both industry and society, with political will. The strategic level change in many value chains that arises from the generated knowledge has started, and novel value chains have begun to form, e.g. novel side stream utilization models have been started to explore reducing the waste generation in urban areas. This strategic level shift extends beyond the individual company and benefits the companies in the value chains linking to it. It thus also gives benefits to the countries in which the value chains operate.
This requires strong encouragement to happen, but the will is there.
The three-step approach from management expertise via industry-level production unit change to strategic level shift combining all streams of production and use has and will make increases in resource recovery from users possible also in the future. Consumers are an important part of this chain since they provide most of the raw material required by the production units, making the cities more self-sufficient and produce less waste. People make the city a better place to live in.