enewa recycling award
Member of the European Parliament Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou (left) presents a recycling award to representatives of Germany-based EnEWA. The EeNWA sorting and collection effort is cited as one that will help Europe reach a 76 percent paper and board recycling rate.
Photo by Koen Van Buggenhout courtesy of CEPI

Europe goes all in on paper and board circularity

EU recycling goals can be met with private sector expertise, trade associations there say.

July 4, 2022

Organizations representing recycling companies and producers of paper and board in Europe have pledged to recycle 76 percent of all paper consumed on that continent by 2030.

Representatives from several European recycling and paper organizations gathered in Brussels in late June and made the commitment as part of a European Paper Recycling Awards ceremony there.

“The recycling rates we have already reached put paper and board as industry frontrunners,” comments Ulrich Leberle, secretary of the Brussels-based European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC). “Both ongoing initiatives and planned steps will allow us to close the circular economy loop even further. The innovative projects presented yesterday at the EPRC Awards are timely examples of what it will take to get there.”

In its news release pertaining to the commitment, the Brussels-based Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), which represents paper and board producers, states, “The new, ambitious recycling rate of 76 percent, calculated by dividing the recycling of used paper by the total paper and board consumption, should be reached by the year 2030. It represents a best-in-class performance both at global level and across material industries, as paper and board is the most recycled material in Europe.”

The commitment is contained within a document called the new European Declaration on Paper Recycling 2021-2030, say the organizations. That document “sets out measures to optimize the management of paper at every step of a continuous recycling loop,” the EPRC and CEPI say.

The organizations say that recycling loop “entails a variety of operations, from paper and board manufacturing, its conversion into products and prints, through to its collection, sorting and recycling. Each step in the process is a distinct industrial sector with only some degree of horizontal integration, making cooperation a must to reach the ambitious recycling target.”

The industry groups that have co-signed the declaration, however, also point to what they call “several enabling conditions from EU and local authorities [that] need to be met.” According to the EPRC and CEPI, these include limiting the use of discarded paper for energy recovery purposes and to “ensure that paper is separately collected to preserve the quality of the material.”

Calling separate paper collection “a prerequisite” for higher levels of recycling, the organizations say source-separated collection “needs to be further promoted.” At the same time, the coalition says it is also “pushing boundaries” to identify additional paper and board products that can be recycled.

Two recent European Paper Recycling Award winning projects tackle these challenges, says the coalition. EnEWA, a research and development project financed by the German Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, was awarded for focusing on “the optimization of sorting, cleaning and recycling paper even when it is mixed with other residual household or commercial waste.”

Awarded in the “information and education” category, the multi-stakeholder CELAB project is described by EPRC as “a cross-industry initiative to recycle self-adhesive labels.”

“The projects or campaigns competing for the awards are all game-changers in the way we recycle paper in Europe,” comments Annick Carpentier, board chair of the EPRC. “They will contribute to achieving our ambitious goal of a 76 percent paper recycling rate by 2030. This is an ambitious target and every piece of paper and board bringing us closer to it counts.”

Circular economy goals, strategies and policies in Europe will be a key topic of discussion at the 2022 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Europe, to be held in mid-November in Rotterdam, Netherlands.