The road to a renewable future – one packaging solution at a time

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Ever wondered why most sodas come in plastic bottles, while milk is in cartons? Did you know that virgin wood fibers can sometimes provide a more sustainable solution than recycled fibers? These are the sorts of questions that Stora Enso’s Packaging Development and Design team considers every day, as they help brands move to more sustainable practices.

“We want to open up a conversation across the value chain about how the expectations of end-users can be met without using non-renewable materials,” says Paola Carceles, Packaging Project Manager. “We could be exploring fiber-based recyclable containers, or flexible packaging… There are so many areas that are still looking for the perfect sustainable solution. It’s our job to take on those challenges.”

Sustainable packaging that doesn’t cost the earth

The Stora Enso Packaging Development and Design team was created in 2020 to provide a service to brand owners and retailers that is both invaluable and free of charge - helping them find creative and renewable solutions for their packaging. Everything the team does is in line with Stora Enso’s vision that “Everything that is made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow”.

Sustainable packaging may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of chemical engineering. But for Paola, who has a masters’ degree in the subject, steering major companies towards renewable materials has become a career path.

“Everyone always thinks that chemical engineers work in oil, or maybe pharmaceuticals,” Paola says. “But I was always more interested in packaging, and helping manufacturers make the right choices.”

Thinking outside the box

Paola joined the team at the start of 2021 and quickly discovered that no two days are the same. Some projects see the team assessing a particular customer requirement and utilizing Stora Enso’s existing portfolio of materials to find the right outcome. Others involve the development of new ideas through collaboration and experimentation with the company’s world-class R&D teams. One such example was the team’s exploration of potential new uses for Stora Enso’s Trayforma™ and Cupforma™ products. Both are highly popular for certain end-use applications, such as holding microwaveable frozen foods and hot drinks, but the team felt they could be utilized in other unexplored ways.

“We really tried to think about areas in which plastic is still the dominant material,” says Paola. “We considered the importance of shelf life, user experience, presentation, product visibility – all the important things that packaging manufacturers must take into account.”

The team narrowed in on an application with plenty of untapped potential: containers for fresh dipping sauces, such as hummus or guacamole. They then explored new ways to apply the materials. What they came up with was a great-looking container that performs as well as its plastic equivalents, while being more in line with sustainability goals and customer expectations.

The right choice for converters, brand owners – and our planet

“We do a job that is perhaps more immediately associated with independent design agencies. What sets us apart is our holistic approach to packaging, the product portfolio and the in-depth expertise we have here at Stora Enso. When we find an answer that works for customers, it is easy to move that solution directly into our production facilities.”

But what about Paola’s vision moving forward? “I truly believe that the future is based around renewable materials. I’m vegetarian, I try to buy organic food, not generate too much waste, I avoid taking planes when possible. I feel really lucky to be working for a company that shares my vision of a sustainable future.”

By developing packaging that has a lighter impact on our planet, Stora Enso’s Packaging Development and Design team aim to make that vision a reality for brand owners and converters worldwide too.

 

 

Paola Carceles

Interview

Stora Enso, Packaging Project Manager