Few in the United States are unfamiliar with placing used newspapers, copy paper or corrugated packaging into those ubiquitous blue bins. In fact, paper recycling is deeply rooted in human history — people have been doing it for hundreds of years.
Since the 1970s, recycling methods and culture have advanced to the point that, by 2018, as much as 68 percent of paper and 96 percent of corrugated packaging consumed in the U.S. is recycled.1 But traditional notions of recycling are still rooted in the “take-make-waste” model centered around “doing less bad.”
The IP Way Forward goes beyond just doing the right things — it’s about creating value for all stakeholders for generations to come. It’s about our dissatisfaction with “doing less bad” and our determination to “do more good.”
That’s why International Paper embraces the concept of the circular economy. This means that we are always looking to evolve the design of our products so that they can enjoy multiple lives through repeated cycles of reuse and recycling. We want to eliminate the very word “waste” from our vocabulary — everything we use to manufacture our products has the potential to be viewed as a renewable resource. We must work to keep products, components, and materials at their highest value at all times.
At International Paper, our core products are made with naturally renewable fiber: pulp. But contrary to popular belief, paper is not infinitely recyclable — the average number of times your printer paper can be recycled, for example, is about seven times.2 Paper is made up of long fibers, which shorten each time they are recycled until they no longer support the function of the product. This means that there will always be a need to introduce new pulp into the papermaking process in addition to maximizing recovery and use of recycled fibers.
To create the most sustainable business model possible, International Paper looks beyond basic recycling to evaluate our entire value chain. This means we start by championing responsible forestry, put residual materials to good use in the manufacturing process and recover and reuse fiber.
Through a comprehensive approach of improving the circularity of our products and processes while being good stewards of natural resources, we ensure a steady and reliable supply of pulp for boxes, copy paper, tissues, and other products which delight our customers.
In other words: when forests thrive, so do we.
What happens at a paper product’s traditional “end-of-use” — whether a customer places it in the recycle or rubbish bin — will never be fully within our control. However, International Paper continues to work to increase recycling rates and encourage more recovery in the residential sector. Given our global reach and the growth of online shopping and e-commerce, we see abundant opportunities to make an even greater impact. To this end, International Paper has become a funding partner of The Recycling Partnership, and is involved in projects with the American Forest & Paper Association and Fibre Box Association.
Globally, International Paper recovers, processes, reuses and facilitates the sale of more than 7 million tons of recovered fiber annually
The challenges of bringing about circular solutions in the paper industry are greater than any single company can take on alone. That’s why International Paper works across the industry, with nongovernmental organizations and governments.
We’ve aligned our efforts with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production), SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). By working collaboratively with others toward these goals, we can make a major impact in building a better world.
We are also are working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to drive the transition to a more sustainable and low-carbon economy that thrives on responsibly managed, renewable, natural resources.
These efforts don’t only help sustain the planet — they are also good for the economy. For example, the forest products industry alone supports 2.4 million jobs through the supply chain while manufacturing nearly $300 billion in products annually.4
International Paper uses 5 million tons of recovered fiber each year – making us one of the largest users of recovered fiber3
are recycled in the United States to make new fiber-based products.5
Our Global Citizenship strategy aligns with the SDGs, demonstrating how we’re doing our part to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. We are focusing on these goals to improve our products’ circular life cycle:
Life on Land
We are a global leader in responsible forestry. We work with landowners and suppliers to advance credible third-party certification to ensure the responsible management of our fiber supply and to support our fiber sourcing from certified forests.
In nature, there’s no such thing as “waste” — everything serves as a nutrient for something else. Because manufacturing waste is a human invention, we can take steps to reduce it. Practically, this includes “designing out” waste from our products. One of our innovations, ClimaShield®, improves the recoverability and recyclability of corrugated boxes through environmentally friendly waterproofing.
At International Paper, we work to make the most of every tree and the byproducts of the manufacturing process to create value and eliminate waste. We use biomass residuals from the manufacturing process to supply nearly 75 percent of the energy used in our mills. This helps us shrink our carbon footprint by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
We love what we do at International Paper and sometimes we tend to use industry-specific terminology that may be unfamiliar to some.
Renewable biomass residuals are waste products from bark, resins and lignin that can be used as fuel to produce energy. One such biomass residual is black liquor, which results from the chemical digestion of pulpwood into paper pulp and is burned as fuel in our mills.
We put our residuals to good work. In some cases, we use these residuals and byproducts in our manufacturing process, and sometimes we sell them to other manufacturers to use.
Ash generated from the combustion of tree bark in our boilers has agricultural value. Because it contains micro-nutrients, farmers can use the ash to stabilize the pH of the soil.
Dry ash also called “fly ash”, can be used in road construction and in the manufacture of materials such as concrete blocks and bricks.
Other wood byproducts are used to make products we use every day, such as paints, fabrics, tires, lubricants, shampoo and even cosmetics.
Consumers like you have the power to accelerate the transition from a linear to a circular economy. Continue to purchase products made from renewable materials that include recycled content, and remember to recycle them when you are finished using them. Look for products with third-party certification like FSC® or SFI® to ensure they are made of fiber from responsibly managed forests.
International Paper Brazil launched the “Recycling World” project in partnership with the Education Department of Mogi Guaçu and in coordination with the environmental engineering program at Professor Franco Montoro University. Education and activities raise awareness for students and their families about the correct disposal of waste and recycling for sustainable development of the region. The initiative also improves the income generation capacity of the local community through the work of the Cooper 3Rs, a recycling association in Brazil responsible for the collecting and selling recyclables in the city.
Sustainability and circularity are not a destination, but an ongoing journey. International Paper is always looking for ways to “do more good” in our operations, supply chains and products. We are proud of the work we’ve done and are doing, but we can always do more. This growth mindset sparks opportunities for innovation that allow us to develop new and improved products that both drive the circular economy forward and delight our customers.