We urgently need a bio-based circular economy

​The total global mass of all human-made materials has just exceeded the living biomass on earth. For example, the mass of all plastics is double the mass of all animals. Species extinction is a reality and the report published last autumn by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasised the urgency of climate measures and stated that this decade is a crucial time for mitigating global warming.
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VP, Climate and Circular Economy, Metsä Group

We are at the tipping point: the production and consumption have to be reformed to match the planetary boundaries. The transformation is already ongoing. The EU-policy makers are setting measures the goal of which is to develop a carbon neutral circular economy, and the technologists say that we are in the middle of a second industrial revolution. The Finnish Government adopted a resolution to promote a circular economy in April 2021. Developing the appropriate policy instruments is challenging as yet there is no proper metrics to monitor circularity on a system level. Most of the current metrics, such as the calculation of recycling rates, monitors individual streams instead of whole systems.  


Circular economy is inspired by nature

The principles of the circular economy include minimizing waste and emissions, using the natural resources harnessed by society for as long as possible, and retaining their value as much as possible, as well as regenerating natural systems. At Metsä Group the development of a fossil free circular economy is at the core of strategy and operations. The Group’s structure, which incorporates the entire value chain of wood under a single umbrella ensures active cooperation and offers unique opportunities for circular development. The foundation of all operations is that nature is respected: all the wood raw material that Metsä Group purchases originates from sustainably managed northern forests.

The circular economy is not just about improved waste management, instead the key is to optimize the flows of materials, energy and data and value creation from the entire system’s perspective. An ideal circular economy is inspired by nature and is in harmony with it. Like nature, the system is also resilient and capable for renewal. 

Collaboration is key in value creation, innovation and caring about the environment 

Currently over 90 percent of Metsä Group’s production side streams are utilized, and our aim is to reach 100 percent utilization rate by 2030. Collaboration with customers and partners is in the focus of all our operations. Our aim is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts regarding both value creation and environmental benefits. For example, Metsä Fibre’s bioproduct mill concept is based on industrial symbiosis, which is continuously developed further together with partners. Even the mill’s odorous gases are captured and converted into sulphuric acid in an integrated plant designed by Valmet. This is a great example of circular chemistry. Reinforcing industrial symbioses and investing in cleaner process technologies are key in promoting circular economy in practice.

In 2020 Metsä Board launched an Excellence Centre in Äänekoski, where customers can collaborate with Metsä Board’s design and R&D people in developing ecological lightweight paperboard packaging solutions. Metsä Spring is the venture capital arm of Metsä Group, which invests worldwide in promising startups. Metsä Spring has also established a joint venture with Japanese Itochu Corporation, and together they have built a demo plant which produces a new kind of textile fibre, Kuura, from wood pulp.  Valmet and Metsä Spring are jointly building a pilot plant, which will produce 3D fiber products, such as food packaging, directly from wet wood pulp.  

The molecules grown in forests are sustainably created in nature’s own processes which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.*) Metsä Group’s value chains offer climate benefits as carbon sinks and storages and by substituting fossil-based products with wood-based alternatives. It’s evident that wood-based circular economy plays a crucial role in mitigating the climate change. I am excited about working in this very important and interesting field as a part of the team Metsä and about strengthening the dialogue between different actors!

*) For example an average 1400 m2 wooden apartment building stores 340 000 kg of carbon dioxide.
 The same amount of CO2 is released when driving a passenger car 2.16 million kilometers. 
VP, Climate and Circular Economy, Metsä Group
Maija Pohjakallio joined Metsä Group as VP, Climate and Circular Economy in August 2021. One focus of her work is to participate in various working groups and forums related to climate change and circular economy. Prior to Metsä Group Maija has worked in the field of circular economy at Sulapac Ltd., VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland and Chemical Industry Federation of Finland. She holds a doctoral degree in physical chemistry and electrochemistry from Helsinki University of Technology (currently Aalto University).