Why choosing recycled paper is more important than ever
This article is sponsored by Rolland.
North American views toward recycling are changing rapidly, particularly after recent turbulence in global recycling and waste management markets that brought the issue to the forefront.
China’s recent decision to stop accepting the bulk of the world’s garbage roiled North American recycling markets, highlighting the weaknesses in a system that essentially relied on an exaggerated notion of easy materials recovery for beneficial use. It also spurred renewed attention to models that work and could be scaled up, mirroring the increasingly urgent need for innovation and collaboration across supply chains. Companies are looking at recycling differently, and seeking to close the loop on their materials sourcing and disposal.
Contamination in recycling streams was an important driver of China’s decision, and it remains a problem more generally for anyone who wishes to reuse materials after consumers have made use of them. Single-stream recycling — which commingles paper, metal, glass and plastics — poses a particular challenge, as households and businesses tend to place items that are not recyclable in their bins, or that soil otherwise recyclable items. It’s incredibly difficult to recover paper fibers that have been saturated in pizza grease, for instance.
This is where Rolland and its partners become a part of the solution. Rolland works with the waste handlers of the world to source sorted papers from office buildings to produce the fibers it uses in its recycled paper products. In principle, a company could turn things circular by using Rolland paper for its office needs and then sending its used mixed paper back out for recycling.
Challenge breeds opportunity
The recycling and waste management challenges of our era can feel overwhelming. According to a recent Associated Press report, communities across the United States recently have been forced to "make hard choices about whether they can afford to keep recycling or should simply send all those bottles, cans and plastic containers to the landfill. Mountains of paper have piled up at sorting centers, worthless. Cities and towns that once made money on recyclables are instead paying high fees to processing plants to take them. Some financially strapped recycling processors have shut down entirely, leaving municipalities with no choice but to dump or incinerate their recyclables."
At Rolland, we know there’s a better way. We’ve seen it, and we’re a part of it. Consider Columbus, Ohio, where recycling efforts remain strong largely because its materials are recycled within a few hundred miles. Or British Columbia, with its "cradle to grave" recycling model that’s among Canada’s most successful. These examples highlight the importance of partnerships and education across the value chain, and Rolland Papers is making strides in both. Our goal for 2025, as outlined in our sustainability report (PDF), is to raise awareness of recycling through community outreach programs. The global sustainability movement starts with households and businesses knowing the ins and outs of the recycling process, from bin to bale and back again.
For most companies, closing the loop on their inputs and outputs is in infancy stage. While some companies with an environmental focus have produced solid sustainability plans with advanced circular economy attributes, most companies are just revving up. The logistics are a challenge, underpinning the opportunities in a transitioning recycling market. Companies are increasingly rethinking product design, particularly as concerns end-of-life issues. They are also focusing more heavily on business partnerships, working together to close the loop in what is currently a fractured system.
Closing the loop with recycled paper
Citizens want to make better choices, and businesses need to respond to this rising demand if they hope to remain relevant and viable. Recycled paper is a sustainable option that businesses should consider, particularly when that paper consists of post-consumer recycled fibers. Post-consumer recycled paper embodies the circular economy. It’s manufactured from recycled products that have served a purpose for end-users, then sold on the market where it again serves a useful purpose, and then can be recycled again. It goes to market and back in a sustainable manner.
Businesses must work together to find a solution for a closed loop supply chain. That’s why the circular economy model has emerged as a potential long-term and regenerative solution that considers product end-of-life, rather than focusing on simply being "recyclable." This approach aims to recover products that have served their purpose for end-users, and turn them into new products that are sold on the market and recycled again. By focusing on product end-of-life, we truly can be sustainable and maximize value chains, not only by feeding recycled materials into production, but also by recovering by-products and side streams of manufacturing for reuse.
As we mark and celebrate another Arbor Day, it's more important than ever to partner together for solutions if we wish to prevent landfilling and create a closed-loop future. Together, Rolland and our partners make systematic changes to divert paper waste from landfills, reintroduce materials into production and recover by-products for reuse and side streams to maximize the value chain.