High-quality recycling loops are best for circular economy

On Europe’s journey to a circular economy, high quality recycling is essential. In fact, the recycling of fibre-based packaging constitutes one of the best examples. If you put your used paper products in the right recycling bin, you can count on them making their way to a facility that will recycle those materials so they can be used again many times to make packaging for breakfast cereal, boxes to carry your online deliveries, newspapers, and a whole host of other useful products.

Currently, about 75 percent of the raw materials used for the fibres in our packaging come from recycling. The rest comes from sustainably-managed forests. Our packaging helps keep fossil fuels in the ground, playing its part in making our planet greener. This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

The EU’s packaging waste regulation: a key chance to enhance recycling systems

At Fibre Packaging Europe we believe the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) has a key role in making recycling even better. We now have a chance to set an ambitious 90 percent separate collection target for all EU member countries.  Here separate collection means transferring materials from your paper and board bin to the recycling plant. There is no better way to ensure that our packaging reaches recyclers after it has been used, and it will further increase an already-remarkable 81.5 percent recycling rate (Eurostat, 2020), higher by volume than plastic, metal and glass combined.

Where we see a risk in the PPWR is if the regulation gets the definition of ‘high-quality’ recycling twisted by restricting it only to what it calls ‘closed loops’. A closed loop means a cereal box would need to be recycled into another cereal box. When fibres are allowed to be recycled universally into any paper and board application and product, it is effective, it is resource efficient, and it reduces CO2 emissions through avoided transportation (to that cereal box factory). Most importantly, it is a good and simple way to continue increasing recycling rates.

Brought to you by Fibre Packaging Europe

Don’t get the loop twisted: why material loops make most sense for paper

But don’t just take it from us. We spoke to seasoned professionals in the recycling business that Fibre Packaging Europe represents to hear first-hand their thoughts on closed loops, the real challenges recyclers face and what can be done to overcome them.

Does closed-loop recycling have a role to play for fibre-based packaging? John Melia, strategy development and innovation director at DS Smith’s Recycling Division, is very clear on this point. “Closed-loop recycling of paper packaging would make no sense in a mature, well-functioning recycling system built on a thriving market for secondary raw materials. It would bring disruption to the market, reduce the quality and lifespan of fibre, and increase the use of fossil fuels in the supply chain. This would be a significant step back from the high-performing recycling system we have today.” 

Recycling systems based on ‘material loops’, on the other hand, mean that the raw materials we get from recycling processes are used in way that is far more versatile. They can be used to make a wide range of sustainable products that we use every day. The system works, and there is already in Europe a unique, thriving market for secondary raw materials in the fibre-based industry. In 2020, 56 million tons of ‘Paper for Recycling’ collected were transformed into equally high-quality new paper and board products.

If fibres get to the right recyclers, they have the tools to do the job

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

“All fibre-based packaging is recyclable if, through collection and sorting, the material is guided to the right type of recycling mill”, explains Michel Willems, European Business Coordinator at Smurfit Kappa Recycling. ‘Separate’ collection systems, ones where non-paper materials such as plastic, metal and glass are collected separately from used paper products, can make it much easier to sort and send the material to the right recycling facilities. When it comes to fibre-based packaging products that are discarded by households, there’s an opportunity to further increase recycling rates.

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

As a general principle, the more homogenous a fibre-based waste stream is, the easier it is to find the correct mill to do the recycling. Nonetheless, the great advantage of fibre packaging recycling is that a homogenous waste stream is not an absolute necessity for the majority of paper-based products. Most can easily be collected in the same bin, for example, at home. Such a stream, following standard quality checks, is ready for immediate recycling at many mills throughout Europe”, said Michel.

“Our business is built around reducing the environmental impact of packaging on the planet, improving supply chains for billions of people. We have an excellent, high-performance recycling system for cardboard with the highest recycling rate of any packaging material in Europe. Corrugated board packaging occupies a very special place because it has been the most recycled product forever. We recycle a box a minimum of 25 times in its life. At the end, it just returns to nature. Our environmentally friendly product is 100 percent renewable, recyclable and biodegradable”, added Michel.

For John Melia, this point is far more important to a successful circular economy than looking at changing recycling systems. “The EU should be focusing on what we know will bring rates of paper recycling even higher: better recycling infrastructure including increased segregation of recycling raw materials through separate collection of municipal waste,” he says. “We in the industry are doing our part, but achieving the full potential of the fibre recycling system will only be possible through government policies that focus on what we know will make a difference.”

So, when we look to complete the loop on the circular economy, let’s listen to the recyclers themselves. Let’s build on the high-quality recycling that already exists to build a greener Europe with the packaging products we know are sustainable.

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Chop Down Forests To Save The Planet? Maybe Not As Crazy As It Sounds

Bill Gates and other investors are betting Kodama Systems can reduce carbon dioxide in the air by chopping down and burying trees. Now if only Uncle Sam would get on board with tax credits, too.

By Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff

A year ago, Merritt Jenkins moved from Boston to Twain Harte, California, a speck of 2,500 souls in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. On his morning commute, he stops at Alicia’s Sugar Shack for a breakfast sandwich (scrambled eggs on rye with avocado), then heads to a 10-acre patch of woods in the Stanislaus National Forest. There, his startup, Kodama Systems, is testing and perfecting its 25-foot-long, 17-ton semiautonomous timber harvesting machine.

Loggers use such machines, known as skidders, to grab tons of cut trees and debris and drag them out of the woods. Kodama’s version is designed to do the job even at night, with fewer workers, using satellite connectivity and advanced lidar (light detection and ranging) cameras, the same type that are used on self-driving cars, to monitor the work remotely. It isn’t easy. “There’s a lot of texture to the trees. Every 10 feet of skid trail is slightly different,” says Jenkins, 35.

But logging in the dark isn’t the most intriguing part of the plans at Kodama, which has raised $6.6 million in seed funding from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy and others. After cutting down the trees, Jenkins plans to bury them—to help slow climate change and to reap salable carbon offsets (and maybe, someday, tax credits too).

Yes, the conventional idea is to plant trees to soak up carbon dioxide from the air and to then sell credits to corporations, private jet owners and others who need or want to offset their emissions. But scientists say burying trees can reduce global warming as well—particularly if those trees would otherwise end up burning or decaying, spewing their stored carbon into the air.

California’s enormous 2020 wildfires drove home the risks to air, property and life posed by overgrown forests. “The orange skies in San Francisco were an inflection point. Now the story resonates,” says Jimmy Voorhis, head of biomass utilization and policy at Kodama. The alarm bells are sounding even louder this year as Canadian wildfires have spread dangerous air conditions to New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

To help address the problem, the U.S. Forest Service aims to thin out 70 million acres of western forests, mostly in California, over the next decade, extracting more than 1 billion tons of bone-dry biomass. It is customary, after such forest thinning, for logs of marketable size to go to sawmills, with most of the rest piled up and later burned under controlled conditions. Kodama wants to bury the leftovers instead—in earthen vaults designed to maintain dry and anoxic (oxygen-free) conditions and protect the wood from rotting or burning.

Along with the VC seed money, Kodama has already received $1.1 million in grants from California’s forest fire agency and others, as well as purchase commitments for the carbon credits tied to the first 400 tons of trees it buries. On the open market, those credits should fetch $200 a ton. Eventually Kodama wants to cut down and bury more than 5,000 tons of trees a year.

A Dartmouth grad with degrees in both engineering and environmental studies, Jenkins started selling used robotic equipment while earning a master’s in robotics at Carnegie Mellon. Then he cofounded a company that uses machine learning to help farmers analyze soil. But in 2019, while earning an MBA at MIT, he concluded there was more opportunity in fores­try than in the crowded ag-tech field. He backed away from the AI company and spent months with loggers to understand how they use equipment, and by 2021 had settled on forestry robotics, convinced that labor shortages would drive demand. “There’s not enough workforce,” he says. “We’ll need new training and new technologies” to meet the Forest Service’s clearing goals.

He also saw another “big gap” in the industry: what to do with all that biomass. He had heard about biomass vaults from Yale’s Carbon Containment Lab. Then mutual friends introduced him to Voorhis, a 33-year-old mountaineer, geologist and earth sciences engineer (with an M.S. from Dartmouth), who had become obsessed with the idea of reclaiming old mines as biomass burial sites. They joined forces.

The notion of burying trees sounds simple and low-tech, particularly when compared with the convoluted “carbon capture” technology now being developed to pull CO2 from the air. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act Democrats passed in 2022, companies like Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil could qualify for tax credits of $85 per ton of CO2 sequestered if they can perfect systems to suck the gas directly from the air and transport it by pipeline before injecting it permanently underground. The IRA further incentivizes some of these projects with tax credits equal to 30% or more of upfront capital invested.

If you want to cut down trees and pelletize them to burn in place of coal, there are tax credits for that too. But not, as of now, for burying them.

“If you need to remove carbon at scale, it’s crazy not to learn from nature or harness nature,” says Lucas Joppa, a former chief environmental officer at Microsoft who is now at Haveli Investments. “We’ve never come remotely close to being as efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere as evolution has.”


By William Baldwin

Grow a tree and then bury it? What a waste! The rational place to store carbon is above ground. The wood could be the two-by-six studs in a house or the laminated beams in a commercial building, and it spares the planet CO2 emissions from steel and concrete. Participate in this environmentally virtuous business by owning shares in forest products companies, such as West Fraser Timber in Canada and Stora Enso in Finland. Earnings will be down this year as homebuilding pauses, but the trees are still growing, and the dividend yields (1.4% and 5%) continue. Recover some or all of the foreign withholding taxes on dividends via a credit on your U.S. return.

William Baldwin is Forbes’ Investment Strategies columnist.

Illustration by Patrick Welsh for Forbes

How efficient? University of Maryland atmospheric science professor Ning Zeng, considered the godfather of biomass burial, explains that the average ton of freshly harvested forest is about 50% carbon by weight, and if left to rot or burn it would put the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A good rule of thumb, he says: “A ton of biomass in the Earth is a ton of CO2 not in the sky.”

Zeng has his own startup, Carbon Lockdown, which has a contract with the city of Baltimore to pick up 5,000 tons of biomass and bury it near wealthy, leafy Potomac, Maryland. He’s selling the carbon credits generated by that burial at $181 per sequestered ton on Puro.earth (a platform that was built with backing from the Finnish government and became majority-owned by Nasdaq in 2021). Swedish investment company Kinnevik recently bought 1,000 tons. “Nature-based technologies are here and scalable,” says Mikaela Kramer, who oversees carbon credit purchases for Kinnevik. “It doesn’t have to wait another 10 years.”

Still, it’s tough to get large-scale private or government investment in biomass burial because it’s neither replacing a climate-destroying industrial activity nor creating a product that’s of use to people—other than the credits themselves. It also can mean disturbing land.

In Texas, attorney Chris Knop, 43, has already interred more than 4,000 tons of biomass on 45 acres of land his company, Carbon Sequestration, owns near the Louisiana border. The land there is ideal for the anoxic burial required to prevent biomass from decomposing, he says, because of its thick layer of clay. He recently acquired 15,000 tons of debris from landowners north of Beaumont, who are clearing pine forest for real estate development and would otherwise have burned it, enabling him to sell carbon credits for $145 a ton on Puro.

Knop thinks he can break even and was counting on federal tax credits to make the venture profitable. But Congress didn’t explicitly include biomass burial in its tax-credit bonanza. Now Knop and biomass lobbyists are hoping that when the Treasury writes final rules for carbon sequestration credits, biomass will qualify. “I’m just looking for some type of affirmation,” he says.

Knop also has an out-there vision for turning America’s forestlands into carbon sponges by chopping down pine trees, burying them and then replanting with more carbon-thirsty species like bamboo, kenaf or poplar. In the U.S., hundreds of millions of acres are dedicated to cattle grazing or timber production, he says. “Why not switch to carbon farming?”

Back at Kodama, Jenkins is focused on burying wood that needs to be culled anyway for forest health, while Voorhis is aiming to adapt defunct mines and quarries—rather than dig new land—for biomass storage. “We will measure the gas and leachate and completely box off the carbon flows,” Voorhis promises. “If you meet anyone with an old inert rock quarry, let me know.”

Little Big Picture


America has plenty of trees—nearly 300 billion of them, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s “tree census.” Good thing, since wood products are used in a variety of products including cigarette filters and Parmesan cheese. Here’s how much you can wring out of a single 30-foot tall, 1.5-foot-wide tree.

7 million toothpicks


4,000 wine corks

Cork Oak

1.2 bowling lanes


Framing for 1/20th of a 2,000-square-foot home

Douglas Fir

1/40th of a 65-foot Viking longship



MORE FROM FORBESInside The Crazy $6 Billion Plan To Turn Wind Into GasolineMORE FROM FORBESFrom The Forbes Archives 1996: Inside Harlan Crow’s Garden Of Despots

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EPA Gonna Punch That Climate Emergency Right In The Snoot!

The Biden administration rolled out yet another piece of its climate plan today, as the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations to limit the greenhouse gases emitted by electric power plants fueled by coal and methane (so-called “natural” gas). As the New York Times puts it in an admirably simple and accurate sentence,

The nation’s 3,400 coal- and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25 percent of greenhouse gases produced by the United States, pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.

Instead of mandating any particular technology, the rules set caps on rates of carbon dioxide pollution that plants can release, leaving it up to energy producers to find ways to meet the goal of eliminating CO2 emissions by 2040. If industry can find ways to capture all CO2 from smokestacks — technology that doesn’t exist yet — then great. But it’s more likely that utilities would have to switch to green energy, or for gas plants, to burning green hydrogen (the kind produced without fossil fuels), which emits no carbon.

And while the EPA doesn’t say it, we’re happy to: The faster the US and the world adopt solar and wind electricity, the cheaper that electricity will be per megawatt hour. According to an Oxford University study published in September, a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to wind and solar could save the world $12 trillion by 2050, which would help offset other costs of the transition like grid upgrades and developing reliable storage/backup/distribution of clean energy. Going slow, on the other hand, will cost more and result in greater climate caused damage.

The EPA press release says the regulations will

avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.

The EPA emphasizes the public health benefits of not burning all that stuff, which doesn’t just contribute to global warming but releases nasties like particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides into the air Americans breathe, especially in communities nearest to power plants, which tend to be home to poor and minority people because America. In addition to helping to keep the planet more habitable for large mammals like gazelles and the NCAA Final Four champion men’s and women’s teams, the proposed standards would mean huge health gains. In 2030 alone, the EPA says, cleaner air resulting from the new standards would prevent

• approximately 1,300 premature deaths;

• more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits;

• more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks;

• 38,000 school absence days; [and]

• 66,000 lost workdays.

Under the new rules, virtually all coal and methane gas plants would be required to either reduce or capture 90 percent of their carbon emissions by 2038, or shut down. Currently, roughly a quarter of American coal plants are already scheduled to be retired by 2029, per the US Energy Information Agency.

Needless to say, industry groups and Republican state officials are at this very moment working on the first drafts of legal challenges to the policy, written as is traditional with the congealed blood of seals and dolphins killed by oil spills. The Times reports that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) is already declaring the EPA plan DOA in the courts, whining that “It is not going to be upheld, and it just seems designed to scare more coal-fired power plants into retirement — the goal of the Biden administration.” Stupid not-wanting-climate-catastrophe Biden!

Sen. Joe Manchin (“D”-West Virginia), whose family fortune is built on selling some of the filthiest coal available — a mining waste slurry called “gob” coal that’s particularly carbon intensive — also threatened today that he will oppose any new Biden appointees to the EPA unless the plan is dropped. Manchin griped that the administration is

“determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear they are hellbent on doing everything in their power to regulate coal- and gas-fueled power plants out of existence, no matter the cost to energy security and reliability.”

Also, fuck the future, the man has money at stake, and he hasn’t spent a career lining his own nest with filthy feathers from crows with black lung disease just to watch it all go away because people in the tropical regions think they “deserve” to live.

So yeah, kids, this is going to be a fight between the wealthy bastards who want to keep pumping the atmosphere full of planet-heating pollutants, and the first president ever whose administration is actually taking the action needed to get close to meeting the US’s commitments to decarbonization by midcentury, which all nations need to do in order to hold warming to non-catastrophic levels.


When you combine the anticipated greenhouse gas reductions from the EPA’s recent vehicle emissions standards, its methane reduction standards, and the power plant emissions standards announced today, the Times reports, the total emissions that would be eliminated would be around 15 billion tons of CO2 by 2055, or

roughly the amount of pollution generated by the entire United States economy over three years. Several analyses have projected that the Inflation Reduction Act will cut emissions by at least another billion tons by 2030.

That could put the nation on track to meet Mr. Biden’s pledge that the United States would cut its greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, although analysts point out that more policies will need to be enacted to reach the latter target.

And that, children, puts the world within what I’ll call realistic hoping distance of actually meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting warming since the start of the industrial age to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It would require all countries doing the same as or better than the Biden plan is close to accomplishing, so yeah, that’s freaking difficult. But doable, genuinely doable, according to the climate boffins. The Times again:

“Each of these several regulations from the E.P.A. are contributing to the whole picture that is necessary to steer this ocean liner away from the worst climate disaster,” said Dallas Burtraw, an economist with Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization that focuses on energy and environmental policy.

Also I just remembered that we were going to do some kind of Wonkette Book Club on Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future (Wonkette-gets-a-cut link), so I guess I’d better actually make a plan and write it up for tomorrow, damn my eyes.

Let’s choose hope. But back it up with action.


[EPA / NYT / Oxford University / AP / NBC News / Photo: American Wind Energy Association, used by permission]

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