From Waste in Landfills to A Raw Material in Papermaking: The Success Story of Recovered Cellulose Pulp

How to prevent paper liner residues from ending up in landfills? Materials In Works (MIW), a start-up based in Malaysia, lends a hand in combating global warming and environmental pollution, as it reinvents residual paper liner from the label packaging industry as recovered cellulose pulp.

About Materials In Works

Materials In Works executes several upcycling projects in the ASEAN region. With their innovative solution for residual paper liner which aims to tackle major challenges of our time associated with landfills and greenhouse gases, the Malaysia-based start-up has gained acknowledgment from the United Nations in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, such as SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 12 (Responsible Production and Consumption), and SDG 13 (Climate Action).

On top of that, MIW has followed the call from ISC3 which is searching for innovations in the field of “Sustainable Chemistry and Waste: Prevention, Valorisation & Management” taking aspects such as reducing environmental impact and substitution of essential product ingredients hindering recycling into account. As a result, the start-up with a tech-based solution for residual paper liner has been nominated as one of the finalists of the ISC3 Innovation Challenge 2022 and has also been crowned as the ISC3 Start-up of November 2022.

A Glance into The Crystal Ball: A More Sustainable Label Packaging Industry

Tons of paper liner residues are produced by the label packaging sector as an unused by-product day by day. These so-called by-products happen to end up in landfills since that is the only way they can be disposed of. The alarming problem raised awareness and accelerated the change towards a more sustainable label packaging industry, as John Ooi, Co-founder and Technical Director of MIW describes:

“In Malaysia, 2.97kt of paper waste is sent to landfills every day. This could fill Petronas Twin Towers, the Malayan landmark skyscrapers, in 45 days! This has resulted in more GHG emissions, pollution and scarcity of land to accommodate an ever-increasing demand for space for landfill construction.”

To put it simply: A group of enthusiastic packaging material experts joined hands and thus, the idea was born: a tech-based solution that recovers cellulose from paper liner residues. So as to achieve zero waste, this cellulose can be recycled and used as a raw material to produce paper products once again. The team, which comprises John Ooi and Dr. Leh Cheu Peng, Technical Advisor and Professor at University Sains Malaysia, aims to cooperate with renowned machine suppliers to develop upcycling solutions. Under the motto: “Think Circular, Less is More”, they strive for upcycling hard-to-recycle items for higher resource efficiency, less waste and lower negative impact on the environment. As part of the INDUSTRIAL SYMBIOSIS Program, Material in Works advocates sustainability together with its industry partners and public universities.

Recovered Cellulose Pulp: A Circular Economy within Sight

Mr. Ooi points out:

“Over ninety percent of paper liners is made up of the complex sugar cellulose and has close to zero percent of lignin content which make it a very valuable source of material for making premium paper products, such as tissue papers, specialty papers and food packaging. Not to mention that it took 50 years to grow the trees which were used as an industrial feedstock for these paper liners.”

In other words, the start-up is redirecting the purpose for unused by-products and proposes a circular solution which is also a win-win situation for not only the environment but also the paper products manufacturers. Malaysia is well-known for importing pulp raw materials. Its effects reflect in price: The stakes are high for industry players, as the pulp price is often subjected to fluctuations.

With reference to it, MIW concentrates on post-industrial waste from the packaging industry that is disposed of in landfills nowadays. With the invention of recovered cellulose pulp, which can be put into use in making specialty papers, tissues, food packaging and more in the industry, Materials In Works will have positive impacts on the environment: saving 54,600 trees from being cut down per year resulting in reducing CO2 emissions compared to conventional landfill disposal methods for instance.

Once the waste is converted into raw material, it will get into the hands of manufacturers who produce the end product and will thereby complete the upcycling journey. These end products might transform into A4 copier paper, tissue paper, food packaging etc.

As supporters of creative ideas and different approaches in relevant interdisciplinary technologies conceived by start-ups as well as the young generation, drupa is exucited about the future innovations that will embrace the circular economy: a topic that will also be discussed at drupa 2024.

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