PaperAge Magazine

Contributing to the Circular Economy: The Paper and Wood Products Industry

Jerry Schwartz - AF&PA Jerry Schwartz

By Jerry Schwartz, Senior Director, Energy and Environmental Policy, AF&PA

August 15, 2019 - The paper and wood products industry uses renewable and recyclable resources to manufacture products that makes people's lives better. Printing-writing papers, paper-based packaging, pulp, tissue and wood products play significant roles in everyday life by meeting needs for information, product protection, hygiene, housing and more.

The manufacture of our industry's products is customer and market driven.

As the global population grows and impacts production and consumption, increasing circularity in our economy would build resilience, generate new business opportunities and provide economic, environmental and social benefits.

"The paper and wood products industry's efforts to promote sustainable forest management, do more with less in the manufacturing process and recover products for recycling form the foundation of our contributions to the circular economy."

The paper and wood products industry's efforts to promote sustainable forest management, do more with less in the manufacturing process and recover products for recycling form the foundation of our contributions to the circular economy.

We regenerate the renewable resources we use to maintain balance in the environment. U.S. forest cover has expanded over the past 40 years due to continued demand for paper and wood products, which creates incentives to plant and grow trees. Our industry also regenerates and reuses pulping chemicals when recovering energy from black liquor.

To reduce waste and pollution, we are continually at work to optimize design and maximize efficient use of resources in all areas of our manufacturing processes.

In this context, design refers to products as well as the equipment and manufacturing processes used to make them. For example, using less materials to make products and improving products' recyclability. We also develop new bio-based products, including liners and enhancements to existing products, to reduce and replace fossil fuel-derived materials. Updates to equipment and manufacturing processes ensure less energy is used to make products.

Maximizing efficient use of resources refers to improving the fiber yield (i.e. using every part of the tree), using renewable, carbon-neutral biomass, reusing and recycling water in the manufacturing process, producing renewable energy on-site in lieu of purchasing energy, reducing and optimizing the use of non-renewable resources, providing manufacturing residuals and byproducts for other uses, etc.

At paper and wood products' end-of-life, we support improved recycling infrastructure and encourage recycling best practices so that our industry can reuse paper that is recovered for recycling to make new products. At the same time, innovative product design is helping to ensure more paper and wood products are accepted for recycling. Technology improvements and innovations in recycling processes allow our mills to recover more fiber from used paper products.

The paper and wood products industry is part of the broader circular economy, interacting with other industries, entities and individuals at all levels of society. Our contributions to the circular economy will continue to be driven by our purpose to provide products of value to people everywhere — and to do so for generations to come.

Editor's Note: Jerry Schwartz is participating in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2019 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summer in Washington, DC. He will be joining a panel — The Economic Impact of a Circular Economy in the U.S. — from 2:40 p.m. 3:10 p.m. on Thursday, August 15. A webcast will be available from this link during the event.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance a sustainable U.S. pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and wood products manufacturing industry through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. AF&PA member companies make products essential for everyday life from renewable and recyclable resources and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry's sustainability initiative— Better Practices, Better Planet 2020.

The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 men and women. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $55 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.