How Rolland Paper leverages biogas for a closed-loop future

Rolland
Rolland leverages biogas for 93 percent of its paper mill’s energy.

This article is sponsored by Rolland Paper.

All over the world, organizations in every industry are looking for ways to operate more sustainably. At the same time, we still send far too much waste to landfills. At Rolland Paper, we turn this environmental challenge into a benefit by turning landfill waste into biogas to power our production. 

Rolland started making recycled paper in 1989, at the forefront of the industry. In 2004, we invested heavily in creating alternative manufacturing technologies. Rolland is in St. Jerome, Canada, eight miles away from a landfill.  

One day, a Rolland engineer had an idea. He saw a television program on alternative energy and wondered about the dump so close by. He proposed that Rolland work with its local gas provider to use biogas — or, as we affectionately call it, "garbage gas" — to fuel the paper plant. Rolland brought his idea to life, thereby further displacing fossil fuels and carbon-intensive virgin fibers in our production approach.

The biogas plant emerged as a creative way to reduce Rolland’s carbon dioxide emissions by 70,000 tons — the equivalent of taking 23,400 compact cars off the road for one year. Moreover, the plant fulfills 93 percent of our paper mill’s energy needs, which is why we call it our best kept secret. In honor of National Energy Awareness Month, we offer a closer look at this important component of our sustainable production process.

Closing the loop

When contemplating how paper can be more environmentally friendly, most people immediately think about recycling it. At Rolland, we go further. To us, true sustainability means making sure our entire manufacturing process takes the environment into account from start to finish, thereby giving our customers more confidence that the paper they use has minimal environmental impact. That includes using energy in a way that’s clean, sustainable and renewable.

A key element of our Sustainability Strategy is our belief in a closed-loop future, in which we manufacture our products from recycled materials while ensuring they can be made into new products after they’re used. Biogas also embodies this philosophy, in that it generates energy from garbage. Methane from decomposing waste is captured, preventing its release into the air. Biogas is thus a renewable energy source. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, come from drilling deep into the ground for organic material that, once used up, won’t regenerate.

Pascal Meunier, Rolland’s environmental manager, explains that Rolland’s choice to use biogas was based not only on its availability, but also on the fact that it is harmful to the environment if not recovered. "When methane, the main component of biogas from landfills, is emitted into the atmosphere, it’s a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide," Meunier notes.

Renewable energy such as biogas is critical in the fight against climate change. In the United States alone, nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide pollution comes from fossil fuels. It’s much better for preserving our environment for years to come — a passion point for us at Rolland. 

"Energy management is built into our core strategy," says Kevin Richards, Rolland’s COO. "Biogas, like post-consumer recycled materials, plays a key role in our manufacturing process in keeping the environmental footprint of our products as small as possible."

Results for the environment, the economy and our customers

It’s in part because of biogas that Rolland’s Enviro paper product line has less than half the environmental impact of the North American paper industry average, as our life cycle assessment reveals. Enviro’s global warming potential is an impressive 62 percent lower than other papers in North America, and its human health impact is significantly lower across its life-cycle.

The benefits of biogas also extend to the local economy. Before turning waste into biogas, the landfill operator with which Rolland partners wasn’t deriving any value from the materials in the landfill and didn’t have the reliable revenue stream that selling biogas provides. 

"Biogas is an economical alternative to burning natural gases, especially for residue landfills," explains Pierre-Michel Raymond, Rolland’s mechanical engineer and energy supervisor. "Plus, a utility operates the pipeline and all parties receive revenue as part of the Rolland supply chain." 

Even putting those positive social impacts aside, biogas has also proved to be good business for Rolland. Using biogas allowed us to drop our plant’s energy costs significantly in the first year of biogas use. Clearly, using renewable energy not only has set us up for environmental success, but also for long-term business success. 

We’ve long believed that responsible purchasing and product use involves the entire product life-cycle. With energy management and closing the loop at the heart of our sustainability strategy, biogas has become integral to our business. We’re helping our customers gain confidence that the paper they use came from a process with limited environmental impact. This supports a path to our customers’ own environmental impact reduction, and to a more sustainable, closed-loop future.