Paper is a valuable asset which must be recovered. The recyclability of a product must be conceived from design to disposal, involving manufacturers, printers, designers, processors and users of packaging.
EcoPaperLoop is a European project created in order to improve the quality of paper, make it more suitable for recycling and improve awareness about the possibility to recover and recycle it. In September 2012, the project was presented in Milan (Italy) by Graziano Elegir, project manager at Innovhub-SSI, along with Axel Fischer, Ecopaperloop press officer, and Paolo Pipere, in charge of environmental compliance at the Chamber of Commerce of Milan. «Paper is a
secondary raw material extremely important as for economy and environmental sustainability» explains Elegir who created and leads the project with Innovhub-SSI. «The purpose of EcoPaperLoop is therefore to raise awareness among publishers, printers, designers, packaging users and buyers of printed products, as well as transformers and public administration.» Paper is a resource which is often still wasted, due to ineffective collection systems and a product design which is not meant for the recovery of end-of-life materials composing it. Partly funded by ERDF – European regional development fund – which provided 1.7 million Euros out of a total budget of over 2 millions, EcoPaperLoop is included in the
Central Europe 2013 program among environmental issues, involving different confederations and industry associations at a European level.
The role of Central EU
A quarter of the paper used by the European industry – 15 million tons over 60 million used annually – comes from the region of Central Europe. The project’s idea is to standardize the methods in order to test the recyclability of paper-based products which are already used and get to a wider standard, which allows obtaining the same response in the involved countries: Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Germany.
In particular, two test methods will be at the basis for the development of a harmonized method at European level, able to determine and measure packaging recyclability: the one adopted by the University of Darmstadt in Germany and the method conceived in Italy by the Committee for Test Methods Aticelca (Italian Techinical Association for Cellulose and Paper – Associazione tecnica italiana per la cellulosa e la carta), which is called Metodo Aticelca MC 501-11.
The Italian regulations
Published in March 2011, the Italian test method, which is now a technical standard, has gained wide approval and has been newly overhauled to better record the differences among the packaging and to promote the gradual increase in recyclability. It has proved to be a useful tool in the supply chain and multinationals already using packaging, resort to MC 501-11 to prove and certify through laboratory tests the recyclability of their packaging. «The Aticelca standard was appreciated because it allowed for a more objective assessment of the recyclability level of their cellulose-based products, thus promoting the development of products which are more compatible with the process of paper recycling» said Elegir on the occasion of its updating. So far the Aticelca method has been used mainly on laminated materials and laminated paper materials. «The revision was necessary to better define some parameters which proved to be critical and to set the standard in view of ongoing developments at a European level.»
A European roadmap
As a part of the EcoPaperLoop project, precisely aiming at harmonizing the different methods used in the European region concerned by the project, a roadmap is planned to be developed, which will lead to guidelines to be proposed for the implementation of development policies. The project will also analyze the life cycle of paper, comparing the current production standard in relation to an improved product, able to ensure a greater environmental sustainability. To this end, and with the help of some European companies in the sector, pilot cases will be specifically carried out.
So there will be the possibility of designing the goods in a different way, in all their stages of implementation, from design to printing, so that they can be more easily recovered at the end of their useful life. The data that will be collected during the 28-month duration of the project – from September 2012 to December 2014 – will be used, through proper tools in the concerned region, in order to improve the eco-design of printed products and packaging.
From the idea to recycling
In short, EcoPaperLoop wants to influence EU policies addressed to products, to ensure that in the coming years the environmental impacts will be reduced as much as possible, thanks to an already conceived intervention which takes account of their disposal. And, in this regard, the project also aims at achieving optimization of collection systems. Considering the different characteristics at a regional level and the various situations of the involved countries, the project will show and propose the best collection systems. Italy, for instance, has already adopted the best practices, although there is still room for improvement: homogeneous results throughout the country still lack, both as for the amount of recovered material and its quality level.
To spread awareness about the importance of recycling paper products, a platform has been also developed in order to communicate with the paper supply chain and governments, i.e. the sensitive part of the demand for these products, thus becoming key stakeholders to improve the recovery process.
To help assessing the use of paper products in certain contexts, the project will make available software developed on gathered data.
Finally, EcoPaperLoop coordinators believe that the positive effects of the project may also arouse a new impetus in the areas related to paper, packaging and design, with implications for employment and development of new professional profiles. The project will lead to the need of integrating different skills and disciplines; for example, the scientific aspect of eco-design will be increasingly developed, in order to separate the high-quality materials – from inks to adhesives – able to better adapt to paper products, increasing and improving recyclability.