As a producer of fresh fibre-based paper, Holmen is frequently met by the notion that recycled paper is good and that paper based on fresh fibre is bad for the environment. In some cases, this misconception has resulted in regulations and legislations promoting and rewarding the use of recycled paper over paper made from fresh fibre.
It’s often overlooked that the paper recycling system would actually stop working without a constant addition of fresh fibre. Because the cellulose fibre can only be reused 5-7 times, at best. After that, the fibre quality is too low to produce paper.
Holmen Paper thinks it’s important to be aware of the whole picture. In order to find out for real the environmental impact of the paper, Holmen initiated an objective study from the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, IVL. In the study, paper based on both fresh and recycled fibres were evaluated using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, comparing fresh fibre-based paper produced in Sweden with recycled-based paper produced with German production conditions. The study looked at the environmental impact of one kilogramme of direct mail flyers, comparing flyers made from Holmen Paper products with flyers based on recycled paper from Germany.
A life cycle analysis creates an overall picture of the extent of the product’s total environmental impact throughout its life cycle – from raw material extraction and production to waste management including all transports along the way. IVL, who are renown for their life-cycle analyses, used the Circular Footprint Formula which is developed within the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) program at the request of the European Commission. To verify the quality of the study, it has also been subjected to a third-party review.
In summary, the study shows that paper from fresh fibres actually has a lower environmental impact in several aspects. Not least in the emission categories: when comparing climate impact (CO2 eq.), eutrophication and acidification the difference between fresh and recycled fibres is significant. When produced where the environmental impact of producing electricity is low, and under the condition that recycled material carries with it some of the environmental impact that was created earlier in its life, paper made in Sweden of fresh fibre from sustainably managed forests has a lower environmental impact than German recycled paper.