Ukrainian startup Releaf has been celebrated as the first worldwide producer of paper packaging from fallen leaves. The company processes leaves gathered by local city authorities – that would typically be left for decomposition – and turns them into pulp and paper for the packaging industry.
In doing so, Releaf says it aims to replace virgin pulp paper with a sustainable substitute, reducing deforestation rates, lowering carbon emissions and supporting cities with the disposal of seasonal green waste.
The technology was achieved following two years of testing and piloting, supported by partnerships and funding from the WWF and Canopy Planet. Following the scaling of production, the company now works with notable businesses from the retail and cosmetics industries, including L’Oreal, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Chanel and Weleda.
The startup was recently celebrated for its dedication to sustainability and innovation, taking home the award for ‘Alternative Materials’ at the Packaging Startup Awards during London Packaging Week.
Commenting on the award CTO and co-founder, Valentyn Frechka, said: “Releaf Paper’s victory in the Alternative Materials category underscores our status as the first producer worldwide of paper derived from fallen leaves. This prestigious accolade recognizes our commitment to revolutionizing packaging materials and our relentless pursuit of sustainable solutions that are reshaping the industry landscape.”
Releaf paper is produced through a four-stage process. First, fallen leaves are collected from city authorities and transported to processing plants. Crucially, Releaf does not collect from forests in order to ensure the preservation of ecosystems and the formation of topsoil.
Following this, fallen leaves are cleaned and processed, whereby fibers are extracted from the raw materials to later form the basis of Releaf’s paper. Next, the fibers are washed to remove foreign structures and ground down.
Last, the fibrous pulp is mixed with biological fillers before being processed into a solid canvas and dried into rolls of paper.
The Ukrainian startup claims that this process of producing paper generates 78% less carbon emissions compared to traditional wood-based paper production. Moreover, 17 trees are saved per one tonne of cellulose made from fallen leaves.
Releaf also claims that the process uses 15 times less water and three times less electricity compared to traditional wood-based paper production.