A world based on the use of biocompatible raw materials and with sophisticated resource recycling systems is already technologically possible. Yet, besides the commitment of the industries, there must be a market capable of understanding and making the right choice.
Is a society based on the use of recycled raw materials really possible? This was the issue posed by Rise – Research institutes of Sweden – with a study on our society’s living conditions and the assessment of changes that are currently taking place in our society and will shape its future. The research study, which was conducted at the beginning of 2016 by the Stockholm based consulting and research company Kairos Future, concerned 2,500 middle-class citizens from five nations (Sweden, the United States, China, Germany and Brazil) with the aim of investigating their opinion on materials and raw materials, in particular the ones that are considered natural or coming from the exploitation of woods and forests, and on their impact on the environment.
The results of the study were published by the Swedish research institute in the report entitled A cellulose-based society. This provides for a very useful vision also for companies to understand their possible future direction.
A resource and a future that are possible
The vice-president of Rise papermaking and packaging division Marco Lucisano presented the survey on the occasion of the 2017 Aticelca Congress held in Riva del Garda (Trento, Italy) in May 2017. The title of the publication was not given by chance, «cellulose is certainly one of the building bricks we find in nature and one of the pillars of a truly circular bioeconomy. Every year 100 billion tons cellulose, i.e. 3,000 tons per second, are produced through photosynthesis; this is a huge quantity, especially if compared to the 150 tons produced every second from oil. Thus, cellulose as a raw material is not used enough and could be used much more than is used now, especially if one considers that it is easily recyclable».
It is therefore necessary to understand the link between people and this material and the relevant exploitation of the environment. Confronted with these questions, the interviewees have provided varied answers depending on their country of origin. «The data resulting from the study has shown that people are today very concerned about the environment, although they are not equally concerned all over the world» (figure 1). Both cultural habits and the specific situations of the place where one lives influence our approach to environmental issues. However, these are perceived as a common responsibility, «environmental conditions are due to the lifestyle of individual citizens – this is proven by the fact that, when asked what can be done to make the world a better place, the vast majority of those interviewed have answered that it is necessary to change consumption patterns and one’s lifestyle» (figure 2).
Materials to understand
As regards intervention methods, the most frequent answer provided by those interviewed «was to have more efficient recycling systems, followed by the need to force businesses to recycle more». The focus is thus not only on individual responsibility, but also on corporate responsibility, i.e. the responsibility of those who use raw materials and process them into products. This is an interesting point, as «it indicates the perception of responsibility as our responsibility as citizens, and the responsibility of businesses for the future of the environment. We then asked what materials are considered “ideal”. The answers to this question show a propensity for natural materials, including paper, which are however also seen as “not very reliable”, unlike what one would expect them to be». Another interesting piece of information emerged from the answers to the question on biomaterials, «which are ultimately considered quite far from the natural materials». This distorted perception gives companies a clear indication, i.e. «one should not simply find technical solutions to produce biocompatible materials, but rather explain them to consumers». It is not enough to manufacture products from natural, recyclable and biocompatible materials; in order for them to be attractive on the market, their value must be recognized and understood. «We must therefore inform our consumers, train them and be transparent». Also when it comes to the increased use of forest resources to manufacture goods and items that have been so far produced with oil, plastic, glass and metals, the people interviewed appeared to be split in their answers: «half of them was positive about the use of woods and forests, while the other one expressed negative views, with differences between the various countries». These are aspects that companies should take seriously into account to truly understand the direction they need to go. «What is technically feasible is not enough, it is necessary to understand how to reinterpret new solutions in the field of the circular economy. The demonstration economy is the future business model, based on which companies explain what they are doing, how and why and what their expected results are. These will be the success companies of the future», according to Lucisano.