Sustainable Paper’s Best Kept Secret: Biogas

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By Michele Bartolini, Rolland

Editor’s note from Kyle Field: Having spent 17 years working at a paper plant in a wide variety of roles, I am passionate about finding and sharing solutions for industries built around fossil fuels. The papermaking process is extremely energy intensive and requires thermal energy to dry paper, making it a challenging nut to crack. The path taken by Rolland to clean up its energy footprint is encouraging for the papermaking industry and serves as a model for other gas-consuming industries.

As the corporate world continues to examine how to reduce its environmental footprint, and more businesses set strategies with climate change in mind, it is imperative they use energy in a way that’s clean, sustainable, and renewable during their manufacturing processes.

At Rolland, we’re committed to industry-leading product quality, continuous improvement and environmental stewardship. This mission is driven by our employees, who help us promote a culture of constant innovation. In honor of National Energy Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at this important component of our sustainable production process, including the challenge, the opportunity and the outcomes.

The Challenge: Thinking outside the “industry norm” box

Global carbon emissions from fossil fuels have significantly increased since 1900. The EPA estimates that CO2 emissions have increased by about 90% since 1970, with emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributing about 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase.

The conversation changed in 2015 when the UN introduced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To achieve these within the next decade, urgent action is needed now to change the current trajectory.

Many traditional sources of energy in our industry, like fossil fuels (including coal, oil, and natural gas), are non-renewable resources that come from drilling or mining the earth. However, it’s important to think outside this industry box and create value through sustainability. We define success not only by the quality of our products, but also by the effect our products and processes have on wildlife, people, and the planet. This also means taking a broader view by contributing to social and environmental initiatives and reinforcing the circular economy.

The Opportunity: Turning a landfill into a climate impact game-changer

In 2004, we found a unique way to leverage renewable energy in our manufacturing process and ultimately bring sustainability deeper into our organizational purpose: Using biogas was an idea formed thanks to the creativity of one of our very own employees.

The original idea of using biogas to fuel paper production, came from the company’s then purchasing director, who had the idea while watching a television show on reducing greenhouse gases. He presented his ideas to the company’s leadership team and after a bit of research and the necessary investments, transformed it into a reality.

Made of predominantly methane and carbon dioxide, this “garbage gas” comes from decomposing landfill waste that has been captured to prevent its release into the air. Once captured, the renewable gas is then transported by an 8 mile long pipeline directly to our facility where we burn it instead of using traditional gas from our local gas provider. When methane burns to produce steam, a vital component used in the papermaking process, it becomes carbon dioxide — a gas 21 times less harmful to the atmosphere. The result is lower methane emissions from our local landfill and lower consumption of gas from the pipeline for us.

The Outcomes: Measurement is key

We are a big believer in the power of measurement. To quantify the benefits of biogas, and measure its overall impact on Rolland’s sustainability efforts, we performed a life cycle assessment (LCA). The results of our assessment showed the real environmental impact of Rolland’s products. Here’s biogas – by the numbers:

  • We are proud to say biogas serves as Rolland’s main source of energy and powers 93% percent of our energy needs. It also reduces our CO2 emissions by 70,000 tons – the equivalent of 23,400 compact cars every year.
  • Rolland Enviro products have less than half the environmental impact of the North American industry average for virgin and 100% recycled papers.
  • Beyond the environmental and societal benefits, biogas has also proven to be good business, and using it has allowed us to drop our plant’s thermal costs by 35 percent.

Measuring our impact like this has also created deeper trust among our customers, giving them more confidence that the paper they use has a lower environmental impact.

From corporations to consumers, there’s more attention on the supply chain than ever before. As more businesses set strategies with climate change in mind, using renewable sources of energy is a game-changing way to bring products to market more responsibly and support a more sustainable future. So next time you drive by your local landfill, don’t forget about “garbage gas” as an alternative energy source! We are proud to share how our paper company used nearby landfill waste to help significantly reduce its environmental impact, and we hope it serves as inspiration for yours.

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