Back to blog | December 10 2021 | Valérie Levée | Science, architecture and occupational health and safety journalist

Food packaging that puts fibre back into circulation

In 2018, Québec paper mills received 1,425,000 tonnes of old paper, newsprint and cardboard. The pulp and paper industry recycles this fibre into toilet paper or printing paper, as well as into food packaging. Thus, the paper and cardboard you put into the recycling bin may come back as the packaging of your bread, sandwich or fruit.

For more than 60 years, Kruger has been involved in manufacturing recycled paper. Acting on several levers of the circular economy, it has its own sorting centres to refine the sorting of collected materials and thus supply its own factories to produce paper and cardboard with recycled content. The Trois-Rivières plant manufactures cardboard using recycled fibre to offer a variety of customized food packaging solutions, from fruit boxes to pizza boxes. On the paper side, we owe Kruger the Krukraft Naturel paper bags, made of 100% post-consumer recycled fibre and conforming to the FDA standard for food contact. Kruger also uses the properties of Filocell cellulose filaments to reinforce its recycled fibre packaging. 

At the moment of its founding in 1882, Rolland Papers Ltd. already made its paper with the cotton scraps from nearby textile mills. Today, Rolland has become a division of Sustana Group and produces paper for food packaging using recycled fibre from the other division of the group, Sustana Fibres. Containing 30% recycled fibre, the OGR (Oil and Grease Resistance) grade paper is suitable for wrapping sandwiches and deli meats.

Cascades, of course, has been naturally involved in sustainable solutions for recyclable packaging for over 50 years. As early as 1971, it created Forma-Pak, a mill producing moulded pulp products made from recycled fibres. Today, this moulded pulp is used to make egg trays and transport trays. Since September 2020, Cascades has also been producing a 100% recycled thermoformed cardboard tray to contain vegetables and meat. Strawberries are also treated to a basket of cardboard made from recycled fibre, easily recyclable with its new cardboard handle instead of plastic.

The Life Cycle Assessment verdict

Recycling, however, is not an end in itself but a means to reduce the environmental footprint of a product. For this reason, products of recycled materials should be evaluated using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which analyzes the environmental consequences of a product during its manufacture, use and disposal. This analysis examines not only GHG emissions, but also other environmental indicators such as resource depletion or acidification of bodies of water. The Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur le cycle de vie des produits, procédés et services (CIRAIG) and AGECO have completed LCAs for several food packaging made of recycled moulded pulp, recycled thermoformed cardboard or various recycled and non-recycled plastics and polystyrene. Recycled packaging made of moulded pulp and cardboard is less harmful to the environment than packaging made of virgin petroleum-based and even bio-based plastics. There are sometimes surprises in LCAs, and it should be recognized that in these studies, recycled plastic trays are also among the least environmentally harmful packaging solutions.

Finally, for the circular economy to work, it is not only necessary to manufacture a product with recycled content; the product itself must be recyclable or even transformed into energy or compost. From the recovery of waste materials to their integration into packaging that will themselves be recyclable, these companies are closing the circular economy loop.

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