The paper industry must retool

By Plant Magazine   

Business Operations MRO Production paper industry press printing pulp

Diversification and innovation are necessary to succeed in emerging packaging applications

Digital media and paperless communication have caused a major decline in the pulp and paper industry over the past decade. This shift, alongside COVID-related pressure, is projected to cost the industry $26 billion per year over the next several years, according to a recent report from Lux Research.

Paper and pulp mill. Source: Getty Images

Pulp and paper companies have a few options to compensate for the decline in pulp’s value, the report says. Among those options are increasing the value of kraft pulping products through molded pulp product (MPP) packaging and nanocellulose products or changing their processes to a biomass fractionalization route that enables the hemicellulose and lignin components of biomass to be valorized alongside cellulose.

“Alternative pulping products could represent a $46 billion industry,” says Charles Willard, senior research associate at Lux Research. “In a market that is in constant decline, failing to innovate and find new sources of demand could mean death.”

Plastic coatings limit recyclability and sustainability of product

MPPs offer a sustainable packaging option, but have undesirably high air permeability and water absorption rates. Plastic coatings can be added to provide moisture resistance, but this limits the recyclability and overall sustainability of the product due to the difficulty in removing the materials from the paper, which would contaminate recycling streams, says the report. In order for MPPs to have wider use options and penetrate the traditional plastics packaging market, sustainable and durable coatings and additives are needed.


Black liquor solids are currently the fifth most used fuel source in the world, but companies are looking for ways to make them more valuable. Leading pulp and paper producers are still attempting to valorize kraft lignin, though according to Lux Research, these projects are all long-shots for adoption. Crude lignin oil offers another sustainable crude oil option but is unlikely to outcompete pyrolysis oil, according to Lux Research.

Lux Research expects MPPs to represent the largest, most competitive opportunity for success. While alternative pulping products cannot compensate for paper market contractions, Lux Research predicts that fast-acting, innovative companies will be able to survive.


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