June 2017 started with a clear theme: Circular economy. First, the first ever World Circular Economy Forum was arranged by Sitra in Helsinki, Finland. Secondly, BusinessEurope had a circular economy event in Brussels, Belgium. From the events I learnt that raising awareness of circular economy is a must because many people still do not know what it’s all about.
Resource-wise use of raw materials has always been in the focus of Metsä Group. With partners, often also small and middle-sized enterprises, the circular economy can be taken to a new level. Forest industry is based on circulations, and new technologies have been taken into use always when applicable.
Example 1: Sustainable sourcing
Our main raw material is wood from Northern forests. Everything starts with sustainable forest management and securing the future growth of this renewable resource. For example, when a tree is harvested, four new ones are planted. Renewability is nature’s own circular economy, and bioeconomy an important part of it.
Example 2: Circularity in production
Our processes circulate water, chemicals and other resources several times. For example, we have been able to use water more efficiently and decrease the amount of process water by 13 % from 2010. In practice this means more closed loops – more use of the same water – and also new technology.
Example 3: Industrial side streams
Metsä Group is building a new bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, Finland. With its bioeconomy partners, the new mill will utilise 100% of the production side streams to make new bioproducts and renewable energy. The mill will operate using zero fossil fuels and will generate renewable electricity 2.4 times the amount it uses – to benefit the whole society.
About a half of wood is fibres, and the rest consists of other ingredients. In pulp production these different ingredients, industrial side streams, are separated from fibres. The bioproduct mill will take resource efficiency and circular economy to another level.
First-of-its-kind example is a sulphuric acid plant connected to the pulp production process. The sulphuric acid plant converts the odorous waste gases from the bioproduct mill into sulphuric acid that can be used as a chemical again by the mill. This reduces the need of purchased sulphuric acid from the market by 350 trucks per year.
Example 4: Recycling and fresh fibres
The key idea of circular economy is to use materials as efficiently as possible and more than once – the opposite for the “take, make and waste” model. In Europe, paper and board are one of the most efficiently recovered and recycled materials (recovery rate 72%, for fibre-based packaging 81%).
However, recovery alone is not enough. Both fresh and recycled fibres are needed. Fresh fibres keep the fibre loop alive, as all products cannot be returned back to circulation. Without fresh fibre inflows, a serious shortage of fibre would occur already in 6 months. Fresh and recycled fibres also have different properties and end uses. Fresh fibre from slow-growing Northern wood is strong, light and pure.
The world population is estimated to grow by over a billion from now till 2030. It is growing by 5.5 million people in less than a month – that equals the entire population of Finland today. There is a real need for circular economy and more efficient use of all resources.
SVP, Sustainability and Corporate Affairs
The same column was also published in LinkedIn,
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