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The journey to renewable, 100% recyclable and 100% circular

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Stora Enso has long been a pioneer in sustainable packaging – we believe that everything made of plastic today can be made of a tree tomorrow. Now, we’re kicking off a new and even more concrete era with the introduction of our renewed sustainability ambitions for 2030 and 2050. For those of us in Innovation and R&D, that means working toward a packaging solution portfolio that’s renewable, 100% recyclable by 2030 and 100% circular by 2050.

At Stora Enso, we’re already using over 800,000 tons of recycled fiber a year, which goes mainly into container board used to make things like packaging for online shopping, so secondary packaging that doesn’t come into contact with the end product directly. Food packaging, however, is more demanding. We’re already working hard to innovate totally recyclable and ultimately circular food packaging solutions, based on both recycled and fresh fibers.

Towards even more efficient fiber use

Reaching the goal of a Stora Enso renewable packaging materials portfolio that’s 100% recyclable and ultimately 100% circular won’t always be easy, but it’s definitely achievable. We’re committed to continuing to reduce the non-fiber elements in our solutions to the absolute minimum and rethink how applications are designed. One of our key focus areas is barriers.

Barrier layers are important because they protect the food inside the package. They also allow us to create fiber-based packaging to uses that would otherwise have non-renewable materials like plastic since fibers alone are not fit for all requirements. Think about it – packaging ready-made soup in a paper box with no barrier just wouldn’t work. However, most of the barriers we use today are fossil-based and not very easy to recycle. And when there’s strong bonding between the paper and plastic layers, it’s essentially impossible for consumers to separate these layers by themselves. The Innovation and R&D team is very actively working on innovating barriers that are fully fiber-based or that have as little non-fiber content as possible. In addition, we’re innovating with partners across the value chain to improve the recycling infrastructure, making it easier for them to separate and handle the plastic in our barriers.

Because there’s still room for improvement in recycling processes, some of the fibers we use are lost during recycling. That’s why there will always be a need for fresh fiber to substitute the materials lost during recycling and to ensure properties like stiffness and strength. Actually, if we stop injecting fresh fiber into the loop in Europe, the value chain would come to a complete halt in five weeks or so. At Stora Enso, our fresh fibers are sourced responsibly from sustainably managed and regenerative forests. And of course, the virgin fibers we use ultimately then becomes part of the process – recycled and reborn as new fibers for new products.We’re also committed to continue working with the entire value chain to innovate the recycling process itself, making it easier for products to be cleaned and recycled for reuse as food-proof packaging. On a personal and professional level, I’m happy to see that awareness of the challenges we face as humanity and the consumer demand for renewable, recyclable, and circular products is growing fast. That gives me hope for the future.


Philip Hanefeldt

Phillip Hanefeld

Phillip is SVP, Head of Innovation and R&D in Packaging Materials at Stora Enso. He joined the company in November 2020 and has a broad international experience in R&D, Innovation, New Business Development, Business Management, M&A and Strategy roles. Phillip has a PhD in polymer chemistry, an executive MBA degree and he is an entrepreneurial, customer focused R&D leader with a track record of launching innovations globally.
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