It has been calculated that over the past decade, a total of 34.4kg of plastic packaging waste was generated per person in the EU, of which less than half - 14.1kg - was recycled. During this same period, consumer awareness has also grown, with increasing number of people demanding products that are packaged in a more sustainable way.
Next to these sustainability demands from the market, plastics have been impacted in other ways, as well. While the pandemic had a major effect on the supply and availability of plastic, both virgin and recycled, today, the geopolitical climate is a factor of uncertainty with prices of plastics again showing unpredictably wild fluctuations.
In Finland, packaging suppliers have responded by developing new initiatives.Three-quarters of Finland’s landmass is forest. It is therefore unsurprising that the country has looked to wood as a source of new solutions. Strong R&D programmes have developed new recycling processes and bio-based solutions, such as using wood pulp and fibre to create new materials.
“Finland as a nation has set high environmental and carbon neutrality goals, aiming to be the first fossil-free welfare society by 2035. Our future-looking industries have responded by developing a high level of green research and technology know-how – including biomass packaging. With these innovative approaches to material design, we are aiming to make the transition from linear to circular material flow. Finland’s businesses are leading the way to the future of packaging by developing innovative plastics and durable natural materials that are sustainable, bio-based, bio-degradable and recyclable,” said Outi Suomi, head of the Bio and Circular Finland programme from Business Finland, Finland’s trade, investment and travel promotion and innovation funding organisation.
One example is the interdisciplinary 4everPack project initiated by Finnish research institute VTT and the University of Vaasa. Its core focus is the reuse of consumer packaging in order to lower the environmental footprint of the packaging value chain. The project consortium includes a large group of companies including Berner, Borealis, Brightplus, City of Helsinki, HUS, Kamupak, Kesko, Kiilto, Kotipizza, Metsä Board, Nordic ID, SOK, Tomra and UpCode. who aim to map out different possibilities to implement reusable packaging in the market. The project will also produce unbiased research-based information on the advantages and disadvantages of reuse, taking into acount such aspects as material solutions, packaging monitoring and traceability, logistic solutions, consumer acceptance, and circular business models.
A number of Finnish start-ups are also working to develop new packaging material initiatives. One such start-up is Paptic, which produces material for various packaging applications including retail shopping bags, e-commerce mailers, and product packaging from renewable wood fibres. The main raw material of Paptic material is wood from sustainably managed Finnish forests. Paptic’s bags are durable and reusable by the end consumer, and can be recycled in the paper and cardboard stream.
“Paptic was founded to address one of the largest global environmental challenges, the plastic waste accumulating in the environment,” explained Tuomas Mustonen, CEO and Co-Founder, Paptic Ltd. “Our R&D focuses on sustainable and bio-based raw materials, to deliver the best possible packaging material properties, that will deliver quality to the user and contribute to decarbonization, supporting circular business models, and enhancing fibre circulations. We started industrial-scale production of sustainable Paptic material in 2018.
Similarly, another brand, RePack delivers reusable packaging services for online retailers in Europe and North America. RePack’s award-winning reusable bags and boxes fold into letter size packets when empty and can be returned by mail from anywhere in the world, free of charge. RePack provides turnkey solutions for online retailers as well as packaging rental services for closed-loop environments in rental and re-commerce. RePack customers include Inditex, Decathlon and hundreds of smaller fashion brands.”