Working towards a zero-waste world Perfect Paper is an example of businesses gearing towards the circular economy by giving second life to used materials

Working towards a zero-waste world  Perfect Paper is an example of businesses gearing towards the circular economy by giving second life to used materials

Sarintorn Phansopa, general manager of Perfect Paper. Perfect Paper

When Sarintorn Phansopa's father started his small business collecting used paper almost five decades ago, he didn't realise he would play a big role in making the world a cleaner, greener place.

“We were tiny at the very beginning,” said Sarintorn. “My father started by collecting old paper from places like publishing houses, companies, schools and houses. With just a small pickup truck, my dad did everything himself — from collecting to sorting used paper.”

From such a small start, today Perfect Paper — the company founded by Sarintorn’s father — is collecting around 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of used paper a month, or sometimes up to 40,000 tonnes, from various sources including households, banks, universities and publishing houses. The paper is then sorted and compressed before being distributed to clients who are to use it as raw materials for something else.

Giving a new life to used materials, Perfect Paper is an example of companies that are an integral part of a circular economy, an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible. An alternative to a traditional linear economy that spells take, make and waste, a circular economy and businesses like Perfect Paper seek to reduce waste and to recover resources at the end of a product’s life cycle.

Thailand and many countries around the world have in recent years been taking circular economy practices seriously as a means of stepping towards sustainability. Take the European Union (EU), for example. In 2015, the European Commission adopted its first circular economy action plan which included measures to help stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy, boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. By 2019, the first circular economy action plan was fully completed.

Working towards a zero-waste world  Perfect Paper is an example of businesses gearing towards the circular economy by giving second life to used materials

Last year, the European Commission went so far as to adopt a new circular economy action plan with initiatives along the entire life cycle of products. The plan focuses on how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible. The new action plan also serves as a prerequisite to the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target and to halt biodiversity loss.

Leading brands around the world also embrace the circular economy principle. Nike, for example, claims 71% of its footwear is made with materials recycled from its own manufacturing process. Earlier this year, Adidas released its first totally recyclable shoe called Made To Be Remade. With an aim to be a part of a circular economy, the sneakers are made with materials and technology that enable them to be returned to Adidas at the end of their life, after which they will be remade into a new pair of shoes or product. As for H&M, 57% of its clothing materials were recycled or sourced in a sustainable manner as of 2019. The company is targeting 100% by 2030.

Likewise, businesses in Thailand have jumped onto the bandwagon and headed full gear towards the circular economy. Operating with a “waste paper for recycling” mindset, Perfect Paper believes all sorts of used paper can be recycled and reused as new.

“Recycling has become more important than ever,” said Sarintorn, a second-generation business owner and Perfect Paper’s general manager. “Today using stuff made from recycled materials is becoming more popular and acceptable to consumers and the sustainability agenda is becoming a more important matter for large corporations. At Perfect Paper, we play our part by processing used materials and turning it into various types of paper such as tissue paper, printing and writing paper, kraft paper or paper moulding used as packaging materials.”

Working towards a zero-waste world  Perfect Paper is an example of businesses gearing towards the circular economy by giving second life to used materials

It is said Thailand uses an estimate of 3.9 million tonnes of paper a year — an equivalent to around 60kg per person on a yearly basis. But with her 20 years of experience working for the family business, Sarintorn has seen a significant change in terms of how people use paper in the country. Printed materials such as newspapers and magazines have migrated to digital platforms. The yellow-pages telephone directory went extinct. However, that doesn’t mean paper becomes meaningless.

“People still use paper but in different forms,” she added. “With a huge effort to reduce the use of Styrofoam and plastic for the sake of the environment, brands and product manufacturers have increasingly turned to paper-based packaging materials given paper can be made into various forms and has different levels of durability.”

With three factories currently under its wing, Perfect Paper also joined the Smart Business Transformation programme to look into its own digital transformation. Organised by UOB Thailand and The FinLab, the programme aims to equip Thai small and medium-sized enterprises with relevant know-how and tech solutions to support them in their digital transformation journey. Perfect Paper has adopted tech solutions for its logistics and marketing and expects a 15% cost savings and a twofold rise in revenue.

“With the company’s participation in UOB Thailand’s Smart Business Transformation, we strongly believe that the use of digital technology in our business operation will help reduce the gap between systems and cut overlapping tasks. The customised digital solution that we accessed through the programme will enable us to achieve better business response times compared with the ready-made system we were previously using. We also expect greater working efficiency and happiness among our staff.”

From a family business using a mere buy-and-sell approach, now Perfect Paper has the infrastructure necessary for the company’s recycling focus to continue sustainably. With human resources, machinery, digital solutions as well as tracking and tracking systems, the company is now able to export recycled paper to other countries as well.

In terms of future plans, Sarintorn foresees a more sustainable business that will not only focus on short-term profits but also long-term outcomes.

“Perfect Paper started with a good heart by helping get rid of waste and recycling them as part of the circular economy. So the more the business expands, the more we can give back to the society,” Sarintorn said.

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