Challenge 1

PROTECTING OUR FORESTS

Challenge 2

ENSURING RECYCLABILITY

Challenge 3

DESIGNING OUT WASTE

Solution

DESIGNING FOR CIRCULARITY

A widely misconception within the packaging industry has been playing out for decades: that paper is a sustainable and infinite resource regardless of how we use and dispose of it. A misconception that has great consequences for our forests and biodiversity all over the world.

Forests play an exceptional role in conserving biodiversity and removing and storing carbon. As long as trees are living and growing, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, acting as natural carbon sinks. For this reason, forests hold a major part in slowing down climate change. When trees are felled – and later burned – to produce paper (or energy), the stored CO2 is released back into the atmosphere, leaving us with a lose-lose situation, where we continuously remove carbon sinks, while also re-emitting the captured CO2. As of now, the Amazon is releasing more CO2 than it is absorbing due to intensive deforestation.1 Not only does this have a direct effect on the carbon footprint, but also on the water cycles that prevent several areas from drying out and turning into tropical savannahs.

According to a statement signed by 40 scientists, we could attain 18 percent of the needed emission cuts by 2030, if we just protected and restored our forests instead of felling them.2 Nevertheless, this is fundamentally incompatible with how the dominant paper industry keeps increasing industrial tree plantations to keep up with production of among other paper packaging.

By producing non-recyclable paper packaging, we are directly working against mother nature’s efforts to neutralize our increasing global COemissions.

From the Amazon, through North American, to Europe, our forests and biodiversity are being limited due to commercial foresting activities. By destroying forests in all geographical areas, we are threatening more than 1 million animal and plant species to extinction within only a few decades.3 Species that make sure we humans can live a long and healthy life. By creating more disturbed, low-biodiversity habitats we make room for species that are more likely to spread infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, posing a great risk to human health.4

Besides providing us with oxygen and producing food, our forests also contribute to medical research. Up until today, 75% of all chemotherapy product components were first discovered among the Amazon’s plant biodiversity.5 Discoveries that we are jeopardizing by destroying the rich biodiversity.

As we humans diminish biodiversity by cutting down forests, we’re increasing the risk of future disease pandemics such as COVID-19.5

 

For years, we have been made to believe that paper is the most sustainable and CO2-neutral material as the CO2 absorbed during a tree’s lifetime is equal the amount emitted when destroyed. However, it is not tenable to perform the calculations in such a way. There is a significant difference between the time the CO2 is absorbed and the time it is emitted. It will take decades for a new tree to absorb the same amount the old tree emits when felled and burned. In the intervening years, the circulating CO2 will keep having a warming effect on our climate, making the time from emitted to reabsorbed crucial.6

Many organisations assure consumers that new trees will be planted in return. Yet, research shows that only one third is reforested7, which is well below the needed according to the following calculations8:

Time. With the speed of which our climate is changing, we cannot afford to wait an entire decade for one tree to truly compensate the CO2 emitted from felling a e.g., 20-year-old tree. Setting a realistic timeframe, it would take planting 51 new trees and letting them grow for 2 years, to truly compensate for the one felled tree.

Space. Having to compensate one tree with 51 new trees, requires more space over time. Space that we would need to find elsewhere, as the land already assigned to this purpose will eventually run out. Expanding to new land is called indirect land use change, which often results in deforestation of vigorous and naturally grown forestland.

Loss. Naturally grown forests are essential for a healthy ecosystem and thriving biodiversity. Duplicating one to one the biodiversity of a naturally developed forest in an industrial tree plantation is almost impossible, ultimately resulting in loss of biodiversity.

Using paper (wood fibres) in food packaging is a means and a temporary solution to reduce use of plastic. At Refour, we support this effort, but do not support it being at the cost of the end-application’s recyclability and ability to stay within the circular economy.

From the get-go, our mission was therefore, to invent a packaging material that 1) can protect our trees and biodiversity by replacing all non-recyclable paper packaging and 2) reduce the use of plastic while maintaining a fully recyclable mono-structure. As RE-4 mainly consists of air (by content) making up to 50% of the density, we instantly reduce the use of industrial raw materials without felling any trees. The remaining content of RE-4 consists of part natural minerals and part PP. The minerals are used as fillers to add stiffness, providing a paper-like structure, and to further reduce the need for PP without compromising on recyclability. Natural minerals are not affected by extrusion and can be recycled indefinitely without losing their initial properties. Once in the recycling system, 75% of RE-4’s content can as such, be perceived as infinite recourses.

With RE-4, our new material formula, we offer a sustainable substitute to all non-recyclable paper packaging; one that doesn’t contain paper but instead natural minerals – talc and calcium – providing the same paper-like structure. The minerals we use are naturally occurring and retrieved. Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth and accounts for about 4 percent of the Earth’s crust. Talc, on the other hand, can be recycled indefinitely without losing its initial properties.

We are offering a deforestation-free solution; a sustainable material that not only reduces the use of plastic, but also protects our forests and biodiversity.

CHALLENGE #2