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Södras virgin pulp forest

both virgin fibers & recycled fibers required for a circular economy

In today's society, the discussion surrounding recycled fibers versus virgin fibers is not only important but also increasingly relevant. As awareness grows regarding the necessity to reduce waste and minimize our environmental impact, the utilization of recycled fibers has gained widespread traction.

While many companies are enticed by recycled fibers as a seemingly more sustainable option, it is crucial to recognize that neither recycled fibers nor virgin fibers are inherently superior or inferior. Both play pivotal roles in sustainable packaging and contribute to a circular economy. At delfort, each of our specialty papers begins with high-quality renewable raw materials that are sustainably sourced. Our food and consumer goods packaging papers predominantly use virgin wood fibers, and we are actively exploring avenues to incorporate recycled fibers into our specialty packaging papers where safe and appropriate.

For insights into the dynamics of recycled and virgin fibers and their necessity in a sustainable packaging strategy, we sat down with Annica Ahlstedt Larsson (Head of Product Quality) and Anders Norén (Director of Sustainability) from Södra and delfort’s Peter Donnabauer (Head of Fiber Procurement).

sodra virgin pulp forest
© Skogsinspektor medlem 2020.
Från vänster skogsinspektor Åsa Andersson, Joakim Carlsson, Katarina Carlsson

Recycled fibers are fibers that are made from materials that have previously been used and then processed and transformed into new fibers. On the other hand, virgin fibers are fibers that are made from renewable raw materials such as wood pulp.

Products made from recycled paper are sometimes perceived as more sustainable than products made with virgin fibers. Is this perception true?

Ms. Larsson and Mr. Norén from Södra:

Within the packaging industry, certain decision-makers have been ingrained with the notion that employing recycled paper stands as the sole sustainable choice for paperboard packaging materials. However, it is vital to acknowledge that paper recycling would be non-existent without virgin fiber. Recycled fiber and virgin fibers function harmoniously, each complementing the other. The pivotal role of virgin pulp in crafting high-quality, durable, and sustainable paper packaging cannot be overstated. Originating from responsibly managed forests and mills, virgin pulp brings forth a spectrum of benefits unattainable with recycled fibers alone. In packaging, both virgin fibers and recycled fibers find their respective places.

What role do virgin fibers play in packaging?

Ms. Larsson and Mr. Norén from Södra:

Recycled fibers can’t be recycled indefinitely. Fibers become more and more depleted in strength with every trip through the recycling loop. In the case of paper-based packaging, fibers can be recycled 5-7 times. But over time, the process of collecting, de-inking and cleaning degrades and weakens the fibers to the point they are no longer usable. To maintain the supply of high-quality paper, we must continually contribute virgin fiber into the circular system.

Natural fibers from well-managed resources are by their nature sustainable and both virgin and recycled are great alternatives to fossil-based packaging materials. The important aspect of virgin fibers is that they come from sustainably managed forestry. 


delfort uses predominantly virgin fibers in the production of our specialty paper products. What are the benefits of using virgin fibers? 

Mr. Donnabauer from delfort:

At delfort, we actively concentrate on developing lightweight specialty papers, demanding a pure and robust fiber structure best achieved with virgin fiber. While recycled fibers are gaining prevalence across industries, certain products necessitate virgin fibers to meet safety and regulatory standards.

Virgin fibers offer distinct advantages in surface qualities, ensuring optimal print results in gravure printing. Moreover, some markets impose restrictions on utilizing recycled fibers in sensitive industries such as food, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals.

In terms of product safety, the use of virgin fibers provides a secure starting point – we can trace the origins of the fibers. Virgin fibers, being clean, safe, and hygienic, fulfill stringent requirements for food-contact packaging. Beyond product safety, we must also consider the impact of the packaging material on the contents, particularly concerning taste and odor. In this aspect, virgin fibers also hold a notable advantage.

end of interview


Peter Donnabauer responsible fiber harvesting

Peter Donnabauer, Head of Corporate Procurement Fiber Materials

Peter has been part of team delfort for more than 24 years. During this time, he has been responsible for fiber sourcing along with his team. Together, they improve our strict diligence systems for pulp sourcing, risk mitigation management, and implementation of forest certifications. Peter enforces our full commitment to zero deforestation and combatting illegal logging by procuring our fibers exclusively from sustainably managed sources.

About Södra

Södra is a large forest industry group that creates products and services for a global market and contributes to the growth of the Swedish economy. They have control over the entire value chain, from seed to customer and promote sustainable development in all stages. 

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Thank you to Ms. Larsson and Mr. Norén for participating in this interview!


Annica Larsson Ahlstedt

Annica Ahlstedt Larsson, Head of Product Quality at Södra

Annica has been working with Södra for more than 25 years in different areas reaching from Innovation to Production. She is now heading the work with Product Quality at Södra Cell´s three pulp mills and she is also responsible for the Technical Customer Service including Sustainability Information.

Anders Norén Hållbarhetschef
© Anders Norén Hållbarhetschef

Anders Norén, Director of Sustainability at Södra

Anders has worked within the forest industry for the last 8 years and with Sustainability at Södra since 2021. He is overall responsible for sustainability at Södra, which includes sustainability ambition and strategy, long-term targets, improvement programs, and reporting.

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