”Circularity is part of our DNA”

Photo: Björn Leijon

Acknowledge that primary resources can be both renewable and circular. This is a statement Kai-Yee Thim keeps coming back to when talking about the Circular Economy Action Plan.

The importance of more sustainable products to support Europe’s transition towards a more circular economy and achieve the goals set under the European Green Deal is something that Kai-Yee Thim really emphasizes and supports. As the Director of products at Swedish Forest Industries Kai-Yee Thim works daily to create better conditions to get more sustainable and biobased products on the market.

But when reading the Action plan Kai-Yee Thim has identified what she calls “a one-sided policy focus on reducing use of primary resources”. This is something she finds risky and counterproductive as well.

“It is vital to secure that a one-side policy focus doesn’t create obstacles also for renewable materials, which have circularity as part of their DNA. To exemplify, Europe has more forest resources today than a century ago. Harvesting of wood in the EU is less than the annual growth, thereby growing stock and increasing carbon storage every year. Combined with high recycling rates, using fresh and renewable raw materials from sustainably managed European forests is not an issue, even though such materials could be labelled as coming from primary resources.”

Mandatory recycled content threats well-functioning recycling markets

Introducing a mandatory recycled content for every product to be sustainable might sound like tempting policy tool, but for value chains with already high recycling rates, it actually risks striking very negatively.

“In the recycling system for fiber-based products, fresh and recycled fibers both have important roles to play. Which type of fiber to use to produce a product depends on several parameters, such as product functionality, customer specifications, geography and availability of recycled material. It is, in other words, not a question of one or the other type of fiber, instead the answer is that both are needed.“

Being close to sustainably managed forests, the Swedish Forest Industries mainly base its production on fresh fibers. Without a continuous inflow of fresh fibers from north, the overall European recycling of paper and board would eventually “dry up”. This is because fibers, after being recycled up to seven times, no longer is strong enough to be used for new products.

“If a mandatory recycled content would be imposed on a North European paper or board producer, that producer would have to transport recycled fibers from central Europe thereby increasing emissions. Recycled fibers would be pulled away from markets already using it and these markets would have to import fresh fibers, also that increasing emissions and costs.”