Recycling and reuse

Part of a constant cycle

Photo: Emil Nordin

For most people in Sweden, as well as for the forest-based industry, recycling is a natural part of the lifecycle of a product. We are, in general, good at recycling in Sweden.

Every year, around 650 000 tonnes of packaging end up in recycling stations across the country. It is enough to fill the Globe arena in Stockholm, floor to ceiling, 28 times over. Recycling is about making the most of earth’s resources and handling material responsibly, but the choice of material is as important as recycling.

Recycling and reuse

Circularity is part of biobased products’ DNA. Did you know, for example, that paper fibre can be reused up to 25 times? Afterwards, the residue can be used for biofuel. The amazing thing about forest materials is that they are both renewable and circular.

How do we handle recyclable products?

In Sweden, the producers of packaging made from forest-based materials have a legal responsibility to ensure that the packaging is recycled. 80% of paper packaging, 95% of newspapers and 77% of graphic paper is recycled in Sweden.

Today, there are systems in place for the collection of most packaging. However, there are still some materials where progress is lagging. This is the case with textiles, for example. Every year, around 150 billion items of clothing are made and nearly all of them eventually end up in a landfill or are incinerated. But several Swedish forest-based companies have begun to develop processes for recycling of clothes and other textiles. 

Recycling – a shared responsibility

Products have different lifecycles and there are many actors involved in enabling the forest-based industry’s products to be recycled. Let us look at paper packaging as an example.

Designed to be recycled

Products should be designed so that they can be recycled. This of course requires them being made from a material with a functioning recycling process, but it also matters what colours and labels are added. Currently, there is considerable research being done in this area, and you can read more about it on the BioInnovation website.

Both fresh and recycled fibre is needed

Despite wood fibres being reusable up to 25 times, it is necessary to add fresh forest material to the cycle. Today, about equal parts fresh and recycled fibre are used by the forest-based industry in Europe. Whether fresh fibre or recycled fibre can be used depends on what kind of product is being made. For example, fresh fibre can be more suitable for certain food packaging. But this does not mean that trees are harvested solely to produce milk packages. When harvested, the entire tree is used:

  • The sturdiest part of the stem becomes timber for buildings and furniture.
  • The thinner part becomes pulp for the production of paper, board and textiles.
  • The treetops and branches, as well as waste streams from the forest industry, are used for products such as bioenergy, biofuels and other chemicals.

Most of what is produced in Sweden is exported. There is a strong demand from the EU market, but the Swedish forest-based industry has customers all over the world. Sweden and Finland have a lot of forest and therefore a larger supply of fresh fibre that is exported to countries without as much forest. These countries can in turn use it as recycled fibre.

Read more about the international cycle of wood fibre here.

Learn more about the path of packaging through the circular economy.