Collaboration and Innovation – not taxes and levies

By Guest Blogger – David Workman  

David Workman

After years of sustained lobbying and promotion by the Packaging Federation, INCPEN and the trade associations representing paper, steel, aluminium, glass and plastics I believe that we are winning the battle to present packaging in a more positive light.

It is, I believe, now generally accepted that packaging reduces environmental impacts, protects products from transit damage and reduces food waste. It also acts as an important conveyer of information between product, producers and the consumer. Packaging is also a highly innovative sector as anyone who attended last month’s Packaging Awards will surely testify.

However, as most packaging materials are made by Energy Intensive Industries (EIIs), who also emit high levels of carbon, the sector also faces a long term issue – its carbon footprint. By 2050 these industrial sectors will be expected to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels.

Despite the fact that much progress has been made over recent years – a modern paper mill, for instance, will only use recycled paper as a raw material, and will generate its own energy from on site Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants fired by biomass – we know this is an impossible target given current known technology.

The Paper Industry is amongst the first to be chosen by DECC to draw up a 2050 Roadmap for the sector and CPI is heavily engaged with consultants in an exercise to produce a “pathway” here in the UK.

The reason that paper is the ‘front runner’ in this exercise is that the European Paper Industry was the first major sector to produce its own Roadmap – back in 2011. The main conclusion from that report was that even if every European mill invested in the latest technology and adopted best practice the industry could only get about half way towards reaching the 2050 goal.

As a result of this finding the leading paper companies took a very brave decision. They set up two teams of academics, scientists, suppliers and industry experts to come up with ideas on breakthrough technologies. In effect they suspended normal hostilities!!

In all over sixty ideas were considered, with eight going through to a final “competition” – the results of which were announced during Paper Week in Brussels a few days ago.

The winner was a process of making pulp from Deep Eutectic Solvents, minimizing energy use, carbon emissions and waste.

In fact all eight of the blue sky technology breakthrough ideas went way beyond expectation, and offer the industry some hope of being able to radically transform the process of papermaking.  There is now a very firm belief in the industry that it may just be possible to think the unthinkable and achieve the 2050 target.

A huge amount of work still needs to be undertaken in further research and funds need to be found in order to build demonstration plants but it just goes to show that technological advance should be the way forward – not the taxes and levies currently in place that will ultimately lead to the demise of energy intensive manufacturing in Europe.

David Workman is Director General of the Confederation of Paper Industries