When produced where the environmental impact of producing electricity is low, and where the forest is sustainably managed, paper from fresh fibres has lower environmental impact than paper from recycled fibres. That’s the conclusion of a new life cycle study made by IVL, Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
The study uses a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, comparing 100% fresh fibre-based paper produced at Holmen Paper in Sweden with 100% recycled-based paper produced with German production conditions. The study shows that paper based on fresh fibre has a lower environmental impact than recycled paper, not least when it comes to emissions. The study was also subject to a third-party review.
An important variable in the findings of the study is the energy mix. Producing paper from fresh wood resources requires more energy than paper produced from recycled resources. However, the study shows that if low-emission renewable energy resources are used for the fresh fibre production, the environmental effects can be significantly reduced. One reason the Swedish scenario does so well is that the Swedish electricity mix has a low environmental impact.
“The study shows that paper from fresh fibres has a lower environmental impact in several aspects. When comparing climate impact, eutrophication and acidification the difference between fresh and recycled fibres is significant in favour for the fresh fibre, despite higher energy consumption”, says Håkan Stripple from the Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
Fresh fibre is also essential for the whole recycling process. The cellulose fibres in paper cannot be recycled more than about 5-7 times. After that, the fibre quality is so low you can no longer use it to produce paper. Therefore, the addition of fresh fibre is vital for the paper recycling process.
The Whitepaper “Environmental benefits of fresh fibre” is available to download here.