Sustainable Industry

The circular (bio)economy of the planted tree industry for a sustainable, innovative and inclusive journey

Approximately 90% of the energy used in this sector is renewable and about 70% of the total comes from self-production

The global climate crisis has become a global emergency and requires tangible changes in all sectors. For instance, there is no more room for a linear economy where resources are extracted to produce goods and the resulting waste is thrown away. The circular economy, where waste is used as an input for the production of new goods – as is the case in nature –, has become a more sustainable alternative model.

Another model that has emerged to address social and environmental issues is the bioeconomy. It uses science and technology to develop innovative products – such as foods, drugs, cosmetics, biofuels and many more – based on the properties of plants, animals, microorganisms, and other biological resources.

A survey conducted by the CNI shows that 76.5% of industrial companies develop some initiative related to the circular economy

As such, Brazil is considered by specialists to be the country with the greatest potential to spearhead the bioeconomy market globally. Brazil is endowed with vast fertile lands, abundant water and significant biodiversity, in addition to receiving high levels of sunlight and being home to the largest portion of the Amazon biome.

Against this backdrop, the Brazilian tree industry emerges as a model and plays a leading role in the bioeconomy and circular economy. This sector accounts for 7% of the country’s industrial Gross Domestic Product; it holds 9 million hectares of planted forests and allocates 5.9 million hectares to conservation.

According to the Brazilian Tree Industry (Ibá) association, concepts related to sustainability, bioeconomy and circular economy are at the heart of all production efforts. Ibá brings together nearly 60 companies and state entities in the planted tree business, as well as independent producers and financial investors.

Greener, more sustainable and more inclusive – According to Ibá, 90% of the energy used in this sector is renewable and about 70% of the total comes from self-production. In addition, the tree industry in Brazil provides expertise in the circular economy expertise in the segments of energy, paper recycling, water circularity, and production of new products from waste. This results in other benefits, such as job creation and income generation, on a greener, more sustainable and more inclusive path.

In terms of water use, the national pulp and paper industry reduced 75% of the water needed to produce one ton of cellulose – and some wood panel factories have achieved full water circularity. The average water reuse rate in the pulp and paper sector is 43%; in the wood panels and laminate floors sector, it is 12%.

Paper – Indeed, the domestic paper production industry provides compelling evidence of the sector’s efficiency in its efforts to establish a circular economy. According to Ibá, this is business as usual since it is one of the industries that recycles the most in Brazil – on average, this affects 70% of the paper produced in the country.

A case in point is CMPC, which is based in the municipality of Guaíba (RS). CMPC is a pulp and paper supplier to the global market that follows three principles: creating innovative cellulose-based solutions; co-existing with hundreds of neighboring communities; and conserving the environment and the natural resources that it has access to.

According to Mauricio Harger, CEO of CMPC in Brazil, the company has taken on the challenge of spearheading a change in the approach to production – from a linear economy to a circular economy – where the resources used are not thrown away, but redirected to new production processes.

“To reach this goal, we have the CMPC Circular Economy Hub, which covers a 99-hectare area and is located in Eldorado do Sul (RS). It recirculates 100% of the 600,000 tons of solid waste generated from production of the company’s cellulose every year. This circulation process supports approximately 160 jobs and generates an annual revenue of more than BRL 15 million,”, says Harger.

To preserve the environment, for example, 20% of the wood logs used by the CMPC plant are transported by waterways, thereby eliminating around 100,000 annual truck road trips and preventing the emission of 56,000 tons of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. In addition, the eucalyptus crop areas are reused for new crops, thus eliminating the need to clear conservation areas or areas covered with other crops, such as soybeans and corn.

Products and by-products – More than five thousand products and by-products result from the conservation + sustainable production equation in the Brazilian tree industry, ranging from the best-known goods – such as cellulose; paper; paper packaging and tissues; toilet paper, surgical masks and diapers; laminate floors and wood panels; charcoal and biomass – to innovations such as fabric fibers from trees.

An example is viscose, which has been gaining strength in the textile industry in replacement of synthetic yarns and accounts for around 5% of the global market. At present, around 70% of the fabrics used in the world are synthetic and fossil based.

From 2000 to 2018, the share of plant viscose grew from 4.8% (2.7 million tons) to 6.5% (6.9 million tons) in the international market. It is estimated that by 2023 this share will reach 7% (8.5 million tons), according to The Fiber Year report.

Alternatives to fossil-based materials – The Brazilian tree industry is committed to investigating alternatives to fossil-based materials made from cultivated trees. The results of this ongoing effort include microfibrillated cellulose for textiles (a 90% reduction in water and chemicals); nanocellulose crystals for cell phones; and lignin, a raw material that brings the promise of making the production of shoes, tires, wood glues, tarpaulins and brake pads more sustainable – and as an additive to concrete (with a reduction in water and cement consumption). Lignin can also be used in conventional thermoplastics, which provides for greater recyclability.

Products created from the waste generated in the Brazilian tree industry also include mineral and biological fertilizers; organic fertilizers; substrate; composting; hydrated lime; soil acidity conditioners and correctives; calcium chloride; furniture; floor ceramics and tiles; chicken litter and animal pens; and obviously energy, which is created from biomass, charcoal and black liquor (a by-product of cooked wood to extract cellulose).