Introduction

In 2014, the world’s paper production reached 400 million tons for the first time. Most of that paper usage comes from the US and Europe, with 7 of the 10 highest consuming countries being in Europe. (Environmental Paper Network, 2018, Page 9) Considering that China only consumes 35% of the paper per capita compared to the US and consumes already half of the world’s production, there is great pressure to find a sustainable solution to traditional paper. (Page 9)

Stone paper is a newly developing type of paper manufactured using two main materials: calcium carbonate powder and high density polyethylene in differing ratios depending on the manufacture. The ratio to plastic is always significantly smaller than the calcium carbonate (in most cases 70-80% calcium carbonate to 20-30% HDPE). The composition of stone paper is remarkable when compared to traditional fibrous paper, as it does not require the felling of trees, uses little water, and uses none of the other additional and potentially harmful chemicals used in processing traditional paper. It has a number of practical differences in comparison to normal paper as well, including resistance to water, fire, and tearing among others. (Stone Age Packaging, 2016)

Could stone paper prove to be a viable alternative to traditional paper? In this report, not only will this question be answered, but the commercial introduction of this paper will also be investigated, specifically in countries who have implemented or are planning to implement carbon taxes (a large part in the EU). The real world situation of this material, including its current supply chain, cost, manufacturing, and resource utilization will be investigated. A case will be made of European publishers and a vision will be created for what the future of this paper could look like if it really is as sustainable as one is led to believe. 

The Sustainability of Stone Paper in European Book Paper

Only if stone paper actually proves to be more sustainable than traditional paper can this research be continued. This, therefore, is the first problem to be investigated. To this end, several variables will be addressed that should provide a complete comparison between the utilized resources between the two materials. For this initial investigation, the example of the European Union will be taken, as this region contains the most countries who have already implemented a carbon tax that could potentially justify the price difference in stone paper, which will be discussed later. (World Bank) The European Union also has high quality information regarding their continental paper demand and production values. 

Traditional Book-Paper Consumption in Europe

The first part of this analysis will concern traditional paper in the following aspects: The total demand of paper for Europe, the carbon emissions generated from this demand based on carefully selected production statistics (as some European paper is imported). The necessary trees, water, and chemicals required to fill this demand will then be brought forth. The statistics for this section will be chosen according to their relevance to the book production industry in Europe. The book industry will be addressed in this report as it is an overlooked opportunity compared to packaging and labeling which make up the majority of stone paper applications as of 2016. (Grand View Research, 2016)

The greatest authority on the traditional paper industry in Europe, an organisation representing 92% of continental pulp and paper production, is CEPI. (The Confederation of European Paper Industries) They keep precise statistics on paper consumption by type and their environmental impact. For this study, the consumption statistics from their coated and uncoated woodfree paper consumption will be considered, as these paper types are most commonly used for books. According to CEPI, 2018 brought an annual European consumption of 10,869,000 tons of paper in these two categories. (CEPI, 2018, Page 13) Of a total paper consumption including all categories, 24 % was produced in Germany. For the last 30 years, total consumption has seen a long term growth of 1%. The paper production of CEPI members comprises 22% of global paper production, and shares an active export/import relationship with many other countries. Many sources boast a recycling rate of 70+% for Europe, but according to CEPI, the utilization rate for paper recycling in the graphic papers segment is an average of 27.1%. (Page 21) This number is made somewhat more confusing in regards to book printing, as “Newsprint” is recycled at a 93% rate while “Other Graphic Papers,” a segment which is more likely to contain books, is recycled at 13%. (Page 21) This may reflect the difficulty of recycling high quality graphic papers to achieve a similar quality without adding virgin pulp. (RPK Verein, 2019)

CEPI’s reported CO2 and resource usage values correspond to the entirety of European paper consumption in 2018, namely over 77 million tons. (CEPI, 2018, Page 13) To be more exact in examining the environmental impact of coated and uncoated woodfree paper specifically, the numbers from the ERM (Environmental Resources Management Limited) will be considered. In April of 2012, ERM was commissioned by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to analyze the environmental impact of coated and uncoated woodfree paper. Their information was consolidated from the BAT (Best Available Techniques) produced by the European Commission. The BAT has since been updated for the year 2015, but the most recent data available from the largest non-integrated paper production mill in Europe is available from 2012. Nonetheless, the report from the ERM provides a much more concise and relevant picture of the BAT, which covers the entire pulp and paper industry over 906 pages. 

To ensure the accuracy of the estimates and accompany the inherent complexity in measuring fine paper consumption across Europe, three cases from the ERM will be considered. These three cases differ in their ratios of recycled paper to virgin fiber paper and their production efficiency. The first case will accord to the ERM’s reported ratio of “Average” recycled paper according to CEPI with an addition of “Average” virgin fiber paper production in the ERM. This case will include 27.1% recycled paper, and 72.9% paper with virgin fibers. The second case for European consumption will correspond to 100% recycled paper using the “Average” production standard in the ERM. Finally, the third case will assume 100% supply from “Best in Class” recycled paper production. These three cases should satisfy the most realistic scenario of available recycling data, as well as give an optimistic estimate of highly efficient 100% recycled paper production for the entire European Union. 

Recycled/VirginRecycled “Average”Recycled “BiC”
CO2 (tons)11,640,66919,564,2006,537,600
Water Use (m³)779,221,435106,516,20060,866,400
Wood Use (m³)20,584,585.700

Figure 1: Resource Usage of Book-Related Papers from Total European Consumption 2018

It is important to note that while the wood use for 100% recycled paper production is theoretically nonexistent, paper fibers can only be recycled 5 to 7 times until they are either sorted out during the deinking process or can no longer produce high enough quality for fine papers. (RPK Verein, 2019) The global average for paper recycling is at maximum the third generation. (FÖP, 2012, Page 20)  In the deinking process of recycled paper- between 10 and 30 percent of the mass of the original fibers is lost. Additionally, book papers are not officially listed in the BAT’s inventory of suitable deinking papers. For this reason, virgin fibers must always be added to the paper production cycle to maintain high quality.

This is not the end of the inputs required to manufacture Europe’s total paper consumption in 2018. The following is a list of chemical additives necessary for the preceding two 100% recycling cases based on numbers from the ERM. (Smith, 2012, Page 61)

Weight (ton)Recycled “Average”Recycled “BiC”
Kaolin230,642.72808,281.6
Aluminum Sulphate3,704.62129,281.6
Starch120,916.32423,696
Sodium Hydroxide36,611.68128,195.2
Sodium Silicate29,115.52102,121.6
Hydrogen Peroxide49,105.28171,651.2
Rosin Size57,036199,897.6
Unspecified Chemicals17,273.7660,841.2
Pigments325,9202,194,629

Figure 2: Additional Chemicals Required for Total European Recycled Book-Paper Consumption 2018

The reason the more realistic virgin/recycled paper production is not included in this table is the difference in considered chemicals across the process of paper manufacturing with virgin fibers. From felling the trees to preparation of the fibers, a number of other chemicals are required that are not required for recycled paper production. These include magnesium sulphate, several process regulation agents, and sulphur among others. The general rule for these additional inputs in pulp production is that they should be emitted from the mill in smaller or in less dangerous forms than when they enter the mill. (BAT, 2015, Page 524)

Lastly, the two 100% recycled cases would produce the following amount of waste if scaled to the total European book paper consumption of 2018:

Weight (ton)Recycled “Average”Recycled “BiC”
Ash986,905.2893,472
Reject Paper1,089,073.8152.5
Waste Water (m³)115,754,850115,309,221
Fiber & Paper SludgeNA1,249,935
Industrial WasteNA12,281.97
Paper, BoardNA22,281.45
Wood PalletsNA1,412.97

Figure 3: Waste Production from Total 2018 European Book Paper Consumption in 100% Recycled Production Cases

The two cases above differ somewhat, as the sources used in the ERM vary between them. For the average recycling case, numbers have been taken from the BAT and EcoInvent, the largest international LCI database. The numbers for the best-in-class recycling are taken directly from the Steinbeis Mill in Germany. The labels of “Reject Paper” and “Fiber & Paper Sludge” may correspond based on their apparent volumes. As the numbers from the Steinbeis Mill come directly from the source, they should be better for reference.

In the realistic case of virgin pulp paper production, the statistics are again somewhat different. The ERM does not supply specific numbers but the following waste outputs are listed:

Ash (NA)

Wastewater Sludge (approx. 92,959.3 tons)

Hazardous Waste (approx. 794,5 tons)

Waste for Incineration (NA)

The preceding three statistics for the three cases of European book paper production provide a broad enough perspective of resource usage to make a fair comparison to stone paper. The task at hand now is to analyze the comparatively little information currently available on the market to make an equally broad case for the new material. Calculating stone paper’s (potential) resource usage will utilize a different approach as traditional paper, but arrive at a similar formatted result, namely the CO2, wood, and water usage of the material’s production. Firstly, stone paper will be broken down into its key components, and the production of these key components themselves will be considered. This will allow for a more exact extrapolation of current stone paper production methods if they were scaled to meet a similar demand of 10,869,000 tons consumed by Europe in 2018. It will also minimize the impact of reporting for scales too small to sustain European demand.

The First Component: Calcium Carbonate

For this analysis, the composition from the oldest stone paper supplier and industry leader, Taiwan Lung Meng Tech Co. Ltd (TLM), will be considered. TLM has distributors in 16 countries focused in Europe, North America, and Asia. A distributor of TLM in the Netherlands, Gaia Concept BV, published in 2013 a detailed life cycle analysis of their stone paper material which was used to receive their Kiwa environmental friendliness certification in 2015. However, only the listed recipe will be referenced from their LCA. The total CO2 footprint listed in their 2013 report does not account for dedicated calcium carbonate (or HDPE) production. (Dennis, 2013, Page 6) It assumes all calcium carbonate is sourced from the waste of Hua Lien, Taiwan, a company specializing in calcium carbonate production. This is not suitable for the case in which calcium carbonate is specifically produced for manufacturing stone paper, effectively adding a previously ignored step to their carbon calculation. 

The recipe listed applies to “S-Eco (RP)” by TLM, the type of paper suitable for traditional printing applications. (Dennis, 2013, Page 5) Per ton of RP paper produced, 800 kg of calcium carbonate, 180 kg of polyethylene (HDPE), and 20 kg of proprietary coating are used. That equates to 80% calcium carbonate, 18% HDPE, and 2% proprietary coating per ton of RP paper. 

The main component of their RP paper, calcium carbonate, is a common additive in traditional paper as a filler to increase brightness and white appearance. (Smith, 2012)  It is also considered non-toxic and is commonly used around the world in a variety of industries. It can be produced by either being mined from quarries (GCC) or precipitated from limestone in a carbon-consuming chemical reaction (PCC). (Minerals Technologies Inc., 2020) According to market research, approximately 2,100,000 tons of PCC were produced in Europe in 2012, and 61% of it was used in the paper industry. (Schyvinck, Slide 6) This number accords with a reported minority production of PCC on a largely GCC dominated global volume of around 70 million tons in 2007. (Xanthos, 2010, Page 295) The two processes that produce GCC and PCC have different carbon footprints which will both be considered in speculatively producing stone paper in the same volume of fine paper consumed by Europe in 2018. Assuming a total paper volume of 10,869,000 tons composed of 80% calcium carbonate, 8,695,200 tons of calcium carbonate are necessary. The resource usage results for the projected volume are as follows:

Ground Calcium Carbonate (GCC)Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC)
CO2 (tons)999,9483,078,100
Water Use (m³)5,304,07240,606,584
Wood Use (m³)00

Figure 4: Resource Usage of Calcium Carbonate Production in Stone Paper Projected for Entire European Fine Paper Consumption 2018

Calcium carbonate production is more complicated than just the two divisions of GCC and PCC. The properties of the produced crystals have an influence on the final appearance of the paper. This is why PCC is preferred for applications in paper because of the enhanced control of the crystal properties and purity. (Minerals Technologies Inc., 2020) The estimates in the above table apply to slurry mixes, said by industry leader Minerals Technologies Inc. to be the most common form of delivery for the paper industry which uses it as a coating additive. Estimates for GCC from another industry leader Omya in cooperation with Europe’s IMA report 75 kg per ton compared to the 115 kg per ton referenced in the table. (Omya Group, 2009, Page 9) For PCC, Mineral Technologies Inc. reports a per tonnage carbon footprint of 185 kg, which is significantly lower than the 354 kg per ton referenced in the table. (Schyvinck, Slide 11) However both of those resources do not mention usage of water or any other resources, so they are not used for the table. Finally, speaking to the exclusion of the CO2 footprint for calcium carbonate production in TLM’s recipe- their official statement is that they get all calcium carbonate from nearby quarry waste, suggesting delivery as a dry mixture to their factory. In a report from the ProSieben television network in Germany, a tour was given of TLM’s production- they confirmed that the calcium carbonate was delivered as stones and processed into pellets on-site before the paper production. This means significantly lower carbon emissions and water usage as a GCC product, especially considering the lack of requirements for specific particle size. (Galileo, 2016) Regardless, the estimate in the referenced table can be considered at the high range of researched CO2 footprints. 

The Second Component: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Figure 5: A molecule of HDPE vs. a molecule of LDPE with side branches (Credit: Polymer Science Learning Center)

High density polyethylene is a polymer created by breaking the double bond between carbon atoms in a monomer of ethylene, which creates a radical and allows the connection of a long chain of ethylene monomers to form a polyethylene polymer. HDPE is a form of polyethylene with a lack of long side branches and a strong, dense backbone of carbon atoms. (PlasticsEurope, 2014, Page 8) It is grouped with other types of polyethylene polyolefins called low density polyethylene, and linear low density polyethylene. Together, this group of PE polyolefins makes up a 29% majority of the “commodity” polymers that account for 80% of Europe’s total plastic consumption. (Page 7) Their volume of PE polyolefins in 2012 was 8,000,000 tons. HDPE specifically is suitable for sturdy plastic containers, industrial films, and construction equipment like pipes. It can be recycled at least 10 times without suffering any noticeable quality loss, which guarantees a useful life of 150-200 years after production. (ESE World B.V., 2018)

According to PlasticsEurope, it is difficult to measure resource usage from HDPE according to one specific method of production, as there are several available on the market. For this analysis, the statistics from six different studies have been considered to establish average values for both virgin polyethylene and recycled polyethylene in the volume of 1,956,420 tons. This is the tonnage that would be required if 18% of the 10,869,000 tons of stone paper were composed of HDPE.

Virgin HDPERecycled HDPE
CO2 (tons)3,623,6811,322,701
Water Use (m³)46,367,154646,400
Wood Use (m³)00

Figure 6: Resource Usage of HDPE Production in Stone Paper Projected for Entire European Fine Paper Consumption 2018

The numbers in the above table should build a strong and accurate average of production statistics in the industry. Several notable sources are included in the figures such as reports from PlasticsEurope, representing 52 production plants around Europe and critically reviewed by DEKRA Consulting GmbH. A  report from the US Environmental Protection Agency is included as well. In TLM’s documentation, they use only recycled HDPE in production, and their R series of paper is produced by recycling stone paper back into itself. (TLM, 2011)

The application of plastic in stone paper manufacturing follows with an important question: Does using a nonrenewable petroleum resource do more harm to the environment than the traditional components of paper? In 2019, 4-6% of European oil production was dedicated to plastic production. (British Plastics Federation, 2019) Every kilogram of virgin HDPE requires from 0.72 to 0.97 kilograms of oil in production. One ton of HDPE would accordingly require 720 to 970 kg of oil. One ton of virgin paper requires 308 kilograms of oil (Cushman-Roisin, Page 4), while one ton of recycled paper requires an estimated 172 kg of oil in production (Waste Management, 2020). This is a fraction of the oil necessary for HDPE. However, when scaled up to the European book-paper supply, this means that 2,947,063 tons of oil would be required to maintain the status quo of 72.9% virgin fibers and 27.1% recycled papers. In an ideally 100% recycled European paper system, 1,869,468 tons of oil would be necessary. For virgin HDPE in a stone paper supply, this number would be 1,897,727 tons of oil. 

Figure 7: Oil Usage of Paper and Stone Paper at Scale of European Book-Paper Consumption

The Third Component: Paper Coating

The coating of Stone Paper from TLM provides it with a suitable surface for using typical printing inks, optimized drying speed, and unique smoothness. Although it composes a small part of their recipe for stone paper, it is completely proprietary. Every kg of coating generates a general rate of 0.463 kg of CO2. (Dennis, 2013, Page 6) At 2% of the total stone paper volume for European fine-paper consumption, 217,380 tons of coating would generate approximately 100,646 tons of CO2. The water consumption from the production of this proprietary coating is not mentioned. In an environmental comparison between traditional paper and stone paper where carbon emissions quickly reach into the millions, the coating component of stone paper is effectively negligible but included in the final calculation.

Transportation from Asia to Europe

The production of the global stone paper supply is centered in Asia. (Grand View Research, 2016) Sea freight has a virtual monopoly on the goods supplied to Europe from Asia. (ECMT, 2006, Page 9) The following assumptions have been made to form a calculation of the total carbon footprint of shipping: The total 10,869,000 tons of material are to be transported by typical cargo ships traveling between Asia and Europe, starting in the city of TLM’s headquarters (Tai’an, Taiwan) and ending in the largest and busiest port in Europe, the Port of Rotterdam. (Journal of Commerce, 2020) This means a potential trade route would include 335 km travel by truck from Tai’an to the outgoing port of Lianyungang, 19,887 km by cargo ship from Lianyungang to the Port of Rotterdam. For the first leg of the journey to Rotterdam, the GHG well-to-wheel CO2 equivalent emissions are 1,663,820 tons. (IVE mbH, 2018) It will be assumed that the amount of stone paper to be delivered to each country mirrors the current paper production by European countries reported by CEPI. The method of delivery would be industrial class, 1000 ton capacity trains that service Europe. The destinations for the individual deliveries would be the largest warehouses in each country for an approximate reference. Such a shipment would be broken into the following components to continue to their final destinations from the Port of Rotterdam:

Country (Warehouse)Share Equivalent Weight (tons)CO2 Contribution (tons)
Germany (Hamburg)24.6%2,673,77426,934
Finland (Sipoo)11.4%1,239,066116,243
Sweden (Jönköping)11%1,195,59023,207
Italy (Milan)9.9%1,076,0316,184
France (Paris)8.5%923,8652,865
Spain (Madrid)6.7%728,2239,286
Austria (Vienna)5.5%597,79512,273
Poland (Warsaw)5.3%576,05719,313
Rest of CEPI17.2%1,869,46888,581

Figure 8: Stone Paper Shipments Throughout Europe According to CEPI Production Statistics

This approximate calculation simulating the final leg of stone paper’s journey to consumers and printers comes out to a total WTW CO2 emission value of 304,886 tons. Including the trip from Asia, the overall emissions for this massive shipment come out to 1,968,706 tons of CO2 that can be accounted for using the GHG WTW protocol.

Results

The conclusion in this chapter will consider the total numbers from each of the materials and their necessary resources, as well as discuss certain aspects of environmental impact that speak to the advantages and disadvantages of each paper supply. The conclusion will be broken into the CO2 emissions, the water usage, wood usage, and recyclability of the materials. 

CO2 Emissions

Virgin/RecycledRecycled “Average”Recycled BiCGCC + R-HDPEGCC + V-HDPEPCC + R-HDPEPCC + V-HDPE
CO2 (Tons)11,640,66919,564,2006,537,6004,392,0016,692,9814,806,3338,771,133
∆ V/R100%168%56%38%57%41%75%

Figure 9: CO2 Footprint of Paper and Stone Paper at Scale of European Book-Paper Consumption

Here it can be seen that stone paper- manufactured with any of the methods mentioned in this report and shipped entirely through an Asian supply chain- emits anywhere from 25% to 62% less CO2 than the current European status quo of 27.1% recycled fibers and 72.9% virgin fiber coated and uncoated papers. This difference is made less obvious when compared to the current “Best in Class” recycling facilities, of which only two of the stone paper categories emit less CO2. This is an expected result of such a comprehensive study of stone paper and its components. On closer examination of the actual manufacturing process, one finds that the calcium carbonate of the largest worldwide supplier is not precipitated or delivered in fine slurry form, but rather delivered in dry rock form. Depending on the boundaries of the according LCA analysis, this could mean up to a 50% drop in CO2 emissions per ton of GCC. And even though it does not appear that stone paper is manufactured from PCC, the same is true for PCC- average estimates from the industry that were not considered could mean a 52% drop in CO2 emissions for that category. This would leave all four categories far lower in their CO2 footprint than even the best in class recycling in Europe. As the numbers currently stand, stone paper’s carbon emissions make it a viable competitor to the best recycling, and a clear solution to current European carbon emissions from average paper production and recycling.The reason this number is presented first is its importance to developing EU regulations. As carbon taxes are unrolled or already implemented in many European countries, reducing carbon emissions across the entire supply chain could potentially mean savings compared to traditional paper. The impact and functionality of these taxes will be discussed later. For commercial purposes, this is the most important statistic.

Water Usage

Virgin/RecycledRecycled “Average”Recycled BiCGCC + R-HDPEGCC + V-HDPEPCC + R-HDPEPCC + V-HDPE
Water (m³)779,221,435106,516,20060,866,4005,950,47251,671,22641,252,98486,973,738
∆ V/R100%14%8%0.8%7%5%11%

Figure 10: Water Usage of Paper and Stone Paper at Scale of European Book-Paper Consumption

There are two observations to be made about this result: Paper with virgin fiber uses a significant amount of fresh water compared to any of the other materials, and manufacturing stone paper is not a waterless process. The water consumption from a virgin and recycled fiber book paper supply makes up about 0.3% of the total European annual water consumption. This is enough water to supply over 14.8 million people with water for a year with current European averages. (EEA, 2019) It is currently estimated that one-third of the EU faces water-stress, including parts of Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain, Portugal and Greece. (EEA, 2019) Since 2012, the European Parliament has enacted laws like the Water Framework Directive to protect the waters that they view as a common good and limited resource. (Laky, 2019).Stone paper has been marketed as a waterless product by Wired Magazine (Palladino, 2018), A Good Company (Ankarlid, 2019), Stone Paper Products GmbH (STP, 2020), and Swedbrand (Karabash, 2017). They refer to the production of stone paper as a dry process, which can only be claimed of the in-house production after washing the calcium carbonate powder. In fact, the production of the calcium carbonate and HDPE both require water. This type of marketing can be misleading. It could be said that stone paper uses less water, but it would still use 0.8% of the water consumed by status quo paper production in Europe. 

Wood Usage

Virgin/RecycledRecycled “Average”Recycled BiCGCC + R-HDPEGCC + V-HDPEPCC + R-HDPEPCC + V-HDPE
Wood (m³)20,584,585000000
∆ V/R100%0%0%0%0%0%0%

Figure 11: Wood Usage of Paper and Stone Paper at Scale of European Fine Paper Consumption

Using trees to produce paper has negative implications globally. Without considering wood that is used directly for fuel, almost half of the industrial wood usage around the world is used for paper production. The largest exporters of raw pulp to make paper are the US, China, Canada, and Brazil, the latter which provided 75.5% of the over 9.7 million tons of pulp imported into the CEPI region in 2018. (CEPI, 2018, Page 11) This is a fast growing trend compared to the 49.5% imported from Latin America into the CEPI region in 2015. In 2014, the surface area of Brazil’s forest plantations was about 7.8 million hectares, 34% of which was used for paper production. In the case of Germany, where over 80% of pulp is imported for paper production, 31% of the imports come from the tropics of Brazil. Considering the large number of book imports from China into Germany, concerns about tropical fibers from Indonesia are also growing, as China imports 50% of total Indonesian pulp as of 2016. (Mannigel, 2016, Page 3) 

Outside of Europe, this development threatens ecosystems in places like Brazil and Indonesia. The main influence caused by unsustainable forestry is the expansion of monocultural plantations with little wildlife that make the land unusable for agriculture. This forces farmers to expand further into rainforests to use the land. This kind of destruction also causes societal instability. (Mannigel, 2016, Page 8) In relation to Europe, over 150 Megatons of CO2 emissions have been scientifically connected to deforestation for forestry products from Indonesia and Brazil. (Pendrill, 2019) European paper consumption and pulp imports have a global impact. 

Finally, it is confusing to list recycling as a process without wood usage. On a life cycle analysis, wood does not appear under the inputs of recycled paper production. But fresh pulp is always necessary to keep paper production moving, and prevent loss of mass necessary for high quality paper. In fact, when graphic paper is recycled, the yield of deinked pulp is usually only 75 to 85% (CEPI, 2009) Overall, the process of recycling requires resource usage in the collection, sorting, transporting, deinking, washing, and production that ultimately uses wood and emits more carbon dioxide than producing paper from primary fibers specifically.

Recycling

The benefits of reduced carbon emissions, water usage and wood usage of stone paper have been demonstrated. The final issue with stone paper concerns its recyclability difference with traditional paper. The calcium carbonate that makes up 80% of TLM’s recipe for stone paper is fully recyclable and non-toxic. (Galileo, 2016) The 20% of HDPE infused into the paper can apparently be recycled under class 2 plastics, but a few international cases of stone paper recycling reveal that it can be complicated. EcoCentral, a recycling provider in New Zealand, said that despite the compatibility with class 2 plastics, it must still be treated as a mixed plastic and accordingly sorted. That report from Canterbury, New Zealand, suggested that a separate channel would be necessary. (Waimakariri, 2018) At North Carolina State University, Professor Martin Hubbe expressed concern that stone paper may be confused by consumers with traditional paper, and contaminate the paper and plastic recycling streams. This could reduce the efficiency of the traditional paper recycling by damaging the machines. (Hubbe, 2016) Hubbe’s opinion coincides with the concern from the European Commission in their 2014 report, saying that recycling confusion for consumers using stone paper is reason for further investigation in the material. (European Commission, 2014) This proves to be one of the greatest difficulties of spreading stone paper on the global market- the technology is still unfamiliar to the public and poses a risk of contaminating the traditional paper recycling stream. 

Despite this, the recycling potential of stone paper has won the material several awards and won Taiwan Lung Meng’s production the silver cradle-to-cradle certification for sustainability. (Cradle to Cradle, 2018) (Fastmarkets RSI, 2013) Stone paper is fully recyclable in both pre- and post-consumer stages, which is why there is no solid waste from stone paper production. (Stone Paper Tech, 2020, Slide 4) Scraps from stone paper manufacturing can be added back into the process and repressed into pellets for further production. (Slide 19) The HDPE component of the paper can also be produced by melting other HDPE products, such as bottles. (Slide 20) Finally, at the end of the life of stone paper, it can be incinerated without releasing toxic gases or smoke, reducing it to calcium carbonate and quicklime. (Slide 21) This is because calcium carbonate thermally decomposes into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide, (RSC Education, 2015) while combustion of HDPE produces water, carbon dioxide, and paraffin compounds (NightHawkInLight, 2016). Calcium oxide can also react with carbon dioxide in a reversible process to create calcium carbonate again. (Barker, 2007) After incineration, the low temperature calcium carbonate is suitable for stone paper production, and the high temperature calcium oxide is suitable for fertilizers. (Stone Paper Tech, 2016, Slide 10) The material recovery after incineration accords to the proportion of calcium carbonate used in the paper. (Slide 7) When stored long-term in landfills, the infused HDPE breaks down under the influence of UV rays in sunlight. In an investigation of this photooxidation of HDPE film, it was demonstrated that HDPE lost 90% of its molar mass in a period of 280 days. It completely lost its mechanical strength after two months of exposure to UV light, leading to cracking and ultimately disintegration. (Ojeda, 2010) This is why stone paper reverts back to calcium carbonate under the long-term influence of direct sunlight- a transformation comparable with the texture and brittleness of an eggshell. 

In relation to traditional paper, these recycling characteristics are more similar to a closed loop recycling system for the European market. Depending on the product, solid waste from virgin paper production cannot be returned to the input and pressed into new paper. (Aue, 2003, Page 1) Used paper products can naturally be recycled back into paper, but there are strong dependencies on quality of recycled paper and the quality of the final output. (RPK Verein, 2019) The cycles of reuse that paper fibers can undergo are also limited to a lower number than HDPE, reducing their overall usable lives. Finally, incinerating paper results in carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, and volatile organic compound emissions as well as ash that contains heavy metals. (Amberber, 2017, Page 3) In landfills, the lignin content surrounding cellulose fibers of paper and ink coverage have an influence on the rate of decomposition. The estimated decomposition for paper from newsprint and paperbacks was measured at 6 to 18 years. (Ximenes, 2010, Page 2) Paper waste presents a more significant challenge to the environment and recycling than stone paper.

Conclusion

If commercial aspects like price are not considered, stone paper’s greatest obstacle in European (and global) development is its perception and potentially infrastructure of recycling. It’s unfamiliar to recycling companies and consumers may mistake it for traditional fiber-based paper. This issue could be considered one step to achieving a more sustainable paper supply, as proven by the facts. Across all measures, including those with estimates generous on behalf of traditional book-paper, stone paper composed of ground calcium carbonate and virgin or recycled HDPE has a significantly lower environmental impact. This difference brings into question whether trees and water are necessary for the European paper supply, and suggests paper innovation could protect against global warming in a real way. Is stone paper a viable alternative to traditional paper? The answer is yes. 

Sources

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Ankarlid, Anders. “The Stone Paper Factory.” A Good Company, A Good Company, 22 Sept. 2019, agood.com/blogs/our-factories/the-stonepaper-factory.

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