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Why is renewability important?

Published on: 08.05.2018

Types of Renewable Resources
A renewable resource is one that will continue to replenish itself over time. A forest, for example, is a renewable resource, as the trees will continue to regrow and provide renewable raw materials, as long as the forest is managed sustainably. 

Another example of a renewable resource is the raw material that comes from sustainable agriculture. Harvest of agricultural produce will always result in residues from the plants, which can be used as renewable raw materials. The plant itself can also be used, however, it is important to ensure that there is no competition with food supply. 


Elopak’s Use of Renewables
At Elopak, we strive to utilize renewable raw materials where possible. The paperboard used in our cartons will always be renewable, as it comes from sustainably managed forests. These materials have been tracked and documented by the Forest Stewardship CouncilTM (FSCTM) to ensure they meet the standards for sustainable forestry and products. Some plastics are used in our cartons to protect the filled product and to make sure the package does not leak. However, we continue to use an increasing amount of plastics that have been produced from renewable raw materials. There are many potential sources for the raw material for such plastics, and it is important to us that we select those which meet our strict sustainability criteria. At the moment, Elopak uses renewable plastic produced from two sources: sugarcane from Brazil, and residues
from paper production from the Nordic forests. 

The Importance of Renewables Today
Using renewable material is important for several reasons. First of all, the world simply cannot continue to rely on finite and fossil resources. These resources are limited, and will not be replenished with time. The shift to renewable resources must occur sooner rather than later. Secondly, renewable resources generally have a significantly lower carbon footprint than fossil resources. The reason is that plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as they grow. When plants are used in products or materials, the carbon becomes locked in, until it is rereleased when the products are incinerated or rot in a landfill. Since the carbon originally came from the atmosphere, it will count as zero when emitted back into the atmosphere. 

For fossil resources, it works differently. The carbon contained in the oil or gas originally came from plants that grew millions of years ago. Thus, the carbon in fossil resources has not been circulating in the atmosphere for a very long time. When oil and gas are converted to products or raw materials, which are then either burnt or landfilled, the carbon will be emitted back to the atmosphere, as “new” emissions. 

When we calculate the carbon emissions from the use of renewable resources, we only count the direct emissions from the vehicles and factories used in the processing and transport; we do not count the carbon content of the material itself. In the case of fossil resources, we count both the emissions from production and transport, and the emissions from the material itself. For this reason, emissions from fossil raw materials tend to be considerably higher. 

The Renewable Value Chain
It is often more complex to produce products and materials from a renewable feedstock than from fossil resources. The reason is that the oil and gas are raw materials that can be used directly. Unless you are using the renewable resource in the form of wood, for instance, you will need to convert the renewable resource into another, more usable form. 

Polyethylene provides a good example of this value chain, as it can be made from both renewable materials as well as fossil raw materials. When made from oil, the raw material (naphtha, which is a component of oil) is fed into a cracker, which splits the naphtha carbon chains into shorter molecules, called monomers. The monomers are then fed into a repolymerization plant, which recombines the shorter chains into the long carbon chains of polymers and, in this case, polyethylene. 

To achieve the same from a tree, you first need to cut and transport the tree to a paper mill. The trees are mechanically ground into chips, and fed into a chemical digester. This process results in chemical pulp, which is used to make paper and paperboard. A residue from this process is a tree-based oil, called tall oil. This is a valuable material that is often sold to advanced chemical plants, which use the oil to make various products, such as makeup. Tall oil can also be sent for reprocessing at another facility, to convert it to naphtha (so called bio-naphtha). This bionaphtha is chemically equivalent to the fossil-based naphtha, and can be used as an alternative, low-carbon, raw material for a cracker, as described above. 

Thus, the value chain for renewable polymers is longer and more complex than that of fossil polymers. This means that additional investments need to be made. The technology employed in this process is also more advanced in the case of renewable raw materials. All of these factors drive cost. 

A Renewable Future 
The world is at the beginning of a bio-based economy, where fossil raw materials will gradually be replaced with renewable ones. Elopak is proud to be at the forefront of this development.

This article is from our Environmental Report 2017. Click to read our full report.