The untapped potential of recycled cardboard

Environment&Sustainability: Innovative solutions come from research.

Fifteen materials, the result of international research, demonstrate the new frontiers of recycled cellulose fibres used in many business sectors. An Italian publication, promoted by Comieco and managed by Matrec, intends to spread the culture of recycling and enhance the value of paper fibres.

If the consumer world has got used to having packaging made from recycled paper together with other natural materials – like agro-industrial waste such as citrus fruit, but also kiwi, coffee, olives, hazelnuts or vegetable fibre from seaweed – perhaps it would be a little surprising to think that cellulose fibre, suitably processed at industrial or even artisan levels, can really find applications in the environment of furnishings for homes, offices, leisure and shops. In the last ten years, indeed, recycled paper and cardboard fibre has been the subject of many innovations aimed at raising the prestige of material through applications which cover many business sectors, and the development of new solutions shows how much of the potential is still untapped.

The aim of this publication – managed by Matrec (Italian company specialising in giving advice on environmentally sustainable materials and products, trends, market scenarios and product eco-innovation) and promoted by Comieco (National Consortium for the Recovery and Recycling of Cellulose-based Packaging) – is to present the new frontiers of recycled cellulose fibre through some of its more important examples, the result of international research which has led to the choice of fifteen materials, each one of which is presented with different applications.

Shapes and thicknesses from differentiated waste collection…

This virtual voyage into the world of recycled paper and cardboard starts with differentiated waste collection: the greatest supply source of secondary raw materials, the first and last link in the chain which opens and closes the virtuous circle of recycling. In Germany, the company Dekodur GmBH & CO.kG has created RE-Y-Stone, a biocomposite material made from post-consumer recycled paper fibre, from differentiated waste collection, and from natural bioresin obtained through a specific manufacturing process for bagasse, a bi-product derived from the extraction of the juice from sugar cane: once hardened, the bioresin has thermosetting qualities and, together with the natural fibres, forms a highly resistant and dimensionally stable material which can be used as cladding and laminate. And from Germany to the United States, where the American company MIO Company, LLC has created a material also made from recycled paper fibre from manufacturing waste and from differentiated waste collection from homes and offices: Paperforms is created through a moulding process and is used as three-dimensional cladding.

… to newsprint

In Holland there are two interesting experiments concerning the creation of a material starting from newsprint. The first is Newspaperwood, from the same-named company, a material made from sheets of recycled paper fibre, salvaged from excess copies of printed newspapers: the pages of the newspapers are stuck together, pressed and finally cut into boards or sheets of veneer. Thanks to its particular structure, the surface effect of the material made looks like wood grain, and it can, indeed, be cut, milled, polished and treated like any type of wood, and is mainly used in making furniture. Recycled paper fibre from newspapers is also used for Paperpulp, by the Dutch company Debbie Wijskamp. It is a versatile material with many applications, which is used to make cabinets, lamps and decorative objects, the colour of which depends on the quantity of ink used in the recycled newspapers.

Technology from the force of the wave…

From the United States of America come two materials made from corrugated cardboard and produced by the company NobleEnvironmentalTechnologies: Curvcor is a curved panel made from paper fibre recycled from corrugated cardboard, strong and light at the same time, used for making novelties, packaging and display structures. It can be coated, used in its natural colour or treated with environmentally friendly paints, varnishes and sealants. Wavecor Esp, on the other hand, is a three-dimensional structural panel which can be used without any protection or can be coated to improve certain characteristics such as resistance to humidity.

… to the force of pressure and heat

Here are three materials which take advantage of the force of pressure and heat. Wavecor, from the American company Noble Environmental Technologies, is a corrugated panel made from recycled paper fibres combined through pressure and heat: it can be used without any protection in its natural colour or can be coated, for example, to improve its resistance to humidity. From the same company, Flatcor is also a composite panel made from recycled paper fibres combined through pressure and heat, and can be coated, used in its natural colour, or treated with environmentally friendly paints, varnishes and sealants. And finally Richlite – generally used for furniture, worktops, cladding, signage and consumer products – is, on the other hand, a composite panel made from various layers of high quality decorative paper: the production process starts by saturating rolls of paper, either certified Fsc or recycled, with a thermosetting resin; the paper is then cut to size and hand-laid and the stacks of paper are placed between plates and pressed with heat using a uniform pressure. The heating of the sheets bonds the paper with the resin, before they are slowly cooled to obtain a stable material made from solid sheets.

Unexpected materials for likewise unexpected applications

From the USA, a material made from recycled paper fibre and phenolic resins obtained from the shells of cashew nuts: it is called Paperstone from Paneltech International, LLC and its non porous surface enables it to resist staining and remain water-repellent throughout its cycle of use. From Turkey, on the other hand, a material made from recycled paper fibre, polyethylene and aluminium from composite packaging: it is called Ecopanel from Ekopan, and thanks to its particular manufacturing process does not require the use of glues, since the polyethylene present acts as a binding agent for the cellulose part. A traditional process, on the other hand, for the Canadian Dear Human, made in recycled paper fibre and used to make tiles with good sound absorption qualities, using a process similar to that of ceramic tiles, and also to create lampshades for hanging lamps.

From Italy, Ecoben Wave is a composite panel made from a honeycomb core in recycled paper fibre formed from overlapping corrugated surfaces, laminated with copolyester or acrylic resin: available in a smooth and satin finish, is principally used for interior design for making doors, dividing walls, tables and worktops. And from America, two very robust materials: Honeycor Esp, a three-dimensional structural panel made from recycled paper fibre, characterised by a honeycombed inside and two external surfaces in pressed cardboard which ensure greater strength when in use; and Slateish, made from recycled paper fibre from waste from paper laminate production used for false ceilings, skateboard ramps, bathroom partitions and for interior furnishings. Looking similar to slate, it is mainly used as a covering for walls, floors, ceiling or fireplaces and for making jewellery, novelties and accessories.

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