Turning rest products into gold – How paper producer Crown van Gelder reduced their environmental footprint by 16%.7 min read

Annually, around 2300 kilotons of paper (packaging and non-packaging) are produced in the Netherlands alone. So what’s the environmental impact of paper? Where does it come from- and how could you reduce it? Renowned paper producer Crown van Gelder wanted to find out. And their solution? Sugar beets.

In the Netherlands, about 86% of all the paper gets recycled. This is great because it means you can reuse the wood pulp, which is the main ingredient for paper, at least 7 times.

Yet, every time you reuse paper pulp, the quality reduces. Moreover, trees need time to grow. And if we want to become more circular in the future, it is also crucial to ensure that we create shorter carbon cycles and look for wood alternatives.

Image 1. Crown Van Gelder’s paper production location.

120 years of experience in high-quality paper production

Crown van Gelder is a Dutch paper producer that has been producing high-quality paper for 120 years already and produces 180.000 tonnes of paper every year. They are specialized in paper for graphical and industrial applications- but also offer High-Speed Inkjet paper for all kinds of press-work, label paper, wrapping paper, and even shopping bags. 

Corporate social responsibility is at the core of Crown van Gelder’s business operations: they take being environmentally conscious, socially responsible, and profitable in the long-term at the heart. The company possesses several environmental certifications like FSC, ISO 14001, and 50001, for many years already. 

This is exactly why they reached out to Ecochain. 

The environmental impact of paper and paper-pulp alternatives

For some time now, Crown van Gelder has already been working on finding possible alternatives to the paper pulp in their paper production. They acknowledged that their paper pulp, which is the main ingredient for paper and comes from wood, would probably have a significant environmental impact- therefore, holding a high reduction potential.

Therefore, they asked Ecochain to help connect these assumptions to measurable environmental data and find out which paper pulp alternative to wood pulp would actually have the highest reduction potential. 

And by performing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of their paper product, we found the answers to all their questions. 

Image 2. Behind the scenes shot with Jan Rops (Product Manager) and Martin van de Pol (Energy and Environmental Manager), for the production of our short film.

Methodology

The Life Cycle Assessment was conducted by Ecochain using our Ecochain Environmental Intelligence software and the Ecoinvent database. The LCA was conducted according to the method ReCiPe and ISO-norms. The results in this case study are partially anonymized and summarized for illustration. If you want to learn more, do not hesitate to reach out to our research team.

The Results: Energy use and wood pulp account for the biggest environmental impact

The Life Cycle Assessment revealed that the total Environmental Price (environmental damage) of regular paper is €601 per tonne of paper.

It also revealed the outcomes for 5 environmental impact indicators: Global Warming Potential (GWP), Terrestrial acidification (acid rain), Particulate matter formation (particle pollution), Agricultural land occupation (land use), and Water depletion. 

Here, a closer look showed that- except for GWP, the biggest environmental impact hotspots in the production of paper comes from the paper pulp (cellulose fiber) (image 3). This reveals a high impact reduction potential if an alternative to the paper-pulp can be found

The energy use only came in as the largest impact hotspot for the calculation of the GWP, due to the fact that Crown Van Gelder runs its own gas-fired power plant (image 3).  Therefore, they have concrete plans to reduce GWP on the production site substantially in the coming years.

Crown Van Gelder is investigating with Eneco the possibility to install an electro boiler which will be powered by wind energy coming from a park in the North Sea right in front of Crown Van Gelder. This to reduce CO2 emissions. 

Jan Rops, Product Manager at Crown van Gelder
Image 3. The total Environmental Price of paper (Expressed in euros per tonne CO2) + the impact of cellulose on the total environmental footprint.

Sugar beet pulp reduces the environmental impact by 16%

The results from this study showed that sugar beet pulp is the most sustainable alternative. Indeed, 1 tonne of sugar beet pulp has 80% less environmental impact than 1 tonne of wood pulp. 

Therefore, replacing 20% of the pulp with sugar beet pulp would reduce the paper’s environmental impact (including all 5 impact indicators mentioned above) by a staggering 16%. And would also reduce carbon emissions in the value chain by 14-21%

Image 4.  The Environmental impact of regular paper vs. Sugar beet paper (20%).

Why sugar beet pulp is great

Sugar beet pulp is incredibly useful. It is a residual stream from sugar production, so it does not require extra production and attention- it’s already there. Usually, it’s used for feeding livestock or for fermentation into green gas. Every year there is a huge amount of sugar beet pulp available, why not giving this pulp a second life, or even a 3rd or 4th life when the paper is recycled? 

Additionally, sugar beet pulp doesn’t contain lignin. Usually, in order to create high-quality paper, lignin needs to be extracted from the wood pulp. A very energy-intensive process that you would be skipping with using sugar beet pulp.

Image 5. Martin van de Pol and Jan Rops standing next to the sugar beet pulp storage on their production location.

Meet: Crown Native

These results showed Crown van Gelder the incredibly high potential of sugar beet pulp as an alternative to the traditional wood pulp. So, together with Cosun, a cooperative of 9000 Dutch farmers, they created Crown Native: sustainable paper that is made out of 20% sugar beet pulp, characterized by the light spots in the paper (image 6), and will be applied to many of their products.

Now you might be wondering- why only replace 20% with sugar beet pulp? Well, this has to do with the water retention characteristics of the fibers. For now, only 20% can be replaced in order to maintain the high speed of the paper machine. Still, Crown van Gelder is working on replacing a higher percentage of wood pulp in the future.

Crown Van Gelder is giving environmentally conscious brands the possibility to replace their virgin fiber-based food packaging with a paper-based on sugar beet fibers which is still made with fresh fibers but with a 16% lower footprint. 

Jan Rops, Product Manager at Crown van Gelder
Image 6. Crown Native – Source: Crown van Gelder.

Sustainable sugar beet packaging for…sugar!

Among other products- Crown van Gelder’s sugar beet paper ‘Crown Native’ will also be used as sustainable paper packaging for the most famous sugar beet product: sugar!

The innovative method of creating paper from sugar beet pulp was a joint effort between Crown van Gelder and purpose-driven sugar producer Cosun Beet Company. As a result, Cosun Beet Company is planning to replace their 25 kg industrial sacks as well as their 1 kg. packs of sugar with sugar beet paper packaging (image 7). 

And so the residual stream of sugar production will become the eventual packaging for sugar itself.

Image 7. Source: Cosun Beet Company.

Sector

Published

March 11, 2021

Lead Specialist

Roel Drost

Author

Zazala Quist

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