Excessive consumption of natural resources accelerates climate change and loss of biodiversity. Circular economy is helping turn things around, as materials are used sustainably and resource-efficiently as many times as possible.
Climate change and loss of biodiversity are great challenges to humanity, and the excessive consumption of natural resources is adding to the problem. The use of minerals, metals, fossil fuels and biomass has tripled globally since the early 1970s, and this growth is expected to continue. The global population is growing and gentrifying, and people consume even more than before – and produce more and more waste.
It is no surprise that a new kind of economic model, the circular economy, is now needed. In the circular economy, financial growth is separated from the use of resources. Materials are used efficiently and sustainably, and they remain safe in circulation for as long as possible. Products are shared, rented, repaired and recycled. Thus, the circular economy is a much wider concept than just recycling materials. The linear economy is often seen as the opposite of the circular economy. In the linear economy, materials are used for disposable products which are discarded as waste immediately after use.
At Metsä Group, the circular economy has become a reality in many ways. Our main raw material is renewable northern wood, which is an example of nature’s own circular economy. Our duty is to do everything we can to ensure that forests remain viable and healthy, and that they keep on growing. When biodiversity remains high, the forest ecosystem is less vulnerable and can fight off diseases and pests.
Once wood is brought from the forest to the mill, the wood raw material must be used as thoroughly as possible, with the goal of zero waste. There are several examples of process and resource efficiency within Metsä Group. In sawing, each log is optimised with measurement technology and data to select the right logs for the right products. The pulp, paperboard, tissue papers and greaseproof paper manufacturing processes aim to reach as advanced a closed cycle as possible concerning water use, for example. Thinking about the life cycle of machines and equipment is also a great example of the circular economy. For example, this applies to a laptop, which does not end up as waste after three years of use, but gets a new life with another user.
In terms of resource-efficiency, industrial ecosystems like the bioproduct mill concept are beneficial. They are the easiest ways to implement the principle “one person’s waste is another’s raw material”, and there is no need to transport the materials over long distances. Pulp and the side streams of its production are used to manufacture various products and develop innovations, bringing high added value. The circular economy also encourages companies to form partnerships with others, because one company may not have all the necessary expertise, or the operation may not otherwise be suitable for a certain company.
The guiding principles of Metsä Group’s product development are lightness (more with less), recyclability and biodegradability, as well as fossil-free production – all of which are also important features of the circular economy. There is still room for development. Recyclability of products, for example, is not enough on its own if used products are not actually recycled as raw material. As for paperboard packages, making the circulation even more efficient is the focus of the newly founded collaboration network 4evergreen, which brings various operations within the industry together.
Metsä Group is already a forerunner in the circular economy, and this has also been appreciated outside the company. The next steps in making the circular economy even better have already been planned, and they constitute a great basis for continuing our work. This is probably my last blog post for Metsä Group, so I wish our readers all the best – and even more motivation in advancing the circular economy!