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Newsprint from fallen leaves? It’s (almost) here

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Newsprint consists of cheap pulp made from recycled paper and trees, and contributes to the three million hectares of forests annually cut for paper production. One startup, based out of Ukraine, might just have hit upon a more sustainable solution: paper from fallen leaves.

Currently, 1 tonne of newsprint uses 12 trees, with estimates coming out of Australia calculating that 185 hectares are needed to produce a year’s worth of a typical newspaper. Whether that’s accurate or not is debatable as it depends on a title’s circulation, but it underscores the huge environmental challenge of newsprint at a time when publishing is transitioning to a more sustainable model.

Now, one small company from Ukraine – ReLeaf – might just have stumbled across a solution that could revolutionize newsprint production. Discovered by a 15-year-old Ukrainian student, ReLeaf’s technology converts cellulose from fallen tree leaves into paper.

A typical city produces a few hundred thousand tonnes of fallen leaves each year and it ends up in landfill. By using this urban biowaste we not only save on the costs of landfill, but more importantly, we can harness the cellulose and use it for paper.

Alexander Sobolenko, Co-founder and CEO, ReLeaf

Currently the company only produces recycled paper and paper bags, and not newsprint, but speaking to WNIP at Lisbon’s Web Summit, Alexander Sobolenko (Co-founder and CEO) says that with the right blend of recycled paper and ReLeaf paper, the concept would work, “to use it for newsprint you would need to get the balance and mix right between ReLeaf paper and recycled paper, but there is no reason why it couldn’t work.”

With $210,000 raised from Google and WWF, ReLeaf started production last year amidst the COVID pandemic and, despite this year’s war in Ukraine, the company has managed to sustain production whilst operating out of their cars in an underground car park in Kyiv. To date, the company has produced 150 tonnes of paper with Samsung, L’Oreal, Schneider Electric, Weleda, Kiehl’s, and Ariston amongst the first customers.

ReLeaf paper contains no sulphur or chlorine-containing agents, and is 15 times more water efficient and 3 times more energy efficient than traditional wood papermaking.

Alexander Sobolenko, Co-founder and CEO, ReLeaf

And the future? ReLeaf is looking to expand production and also sign-up more cities into its program of collecting urban biomass. Key to this is a bespoke paper mill where it can have full control over the entire production process.

At a time when sustainability is one of the key themes within media – The Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero Summit, WARC’s Ad Net Zero Guide, and Advertising Week’s Ad Net Zero podcast symptomatic of an industry collectively getting behind it – ReLeaf could be an idea whose time has arrived, especially for print newspapers.