Your questions answered: designing food packaging beyond plastics

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Consumers have high sustainability expectations for brand-owners’ food packaging, and they are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. These are two findings from a recent study we conducted among European consumers on their attitudes toward food packaging materials, recycling behaviors, and expectations they have for brand-owners.

We shared some of these insights during our webinar “Designing food packaging beyond plastics: what do consumers want?” where we brought Stora Enso’s experts together for a conversation on packaging sustainability and design. The discussion is valuable especially for brand-owners who would be interested in improving packaging sustainability by switching from non-renewable materials to renewable, fiber-based alternatives. If you were not able to attend, a recording of the webinar is available here.

We received plenty of thoughtful feedback from viewers, and in this article, we will answer a few of the common questions from you.

We are interested in fiber-based packaging, but we want to ensure that we will have sufficient material supply. How can we be sure that we will have continuous access your products?

The supply situation for our materials remains relatively stable and we are confident there is enough wood fiber for our current uses. We continue to work to ensure the availability of the right kind of wood in different parts of the world, use recycled fibers and optimize our board-making capacity and output from raw materials. Further, we are continuously looking forward to increasing our production capacity to further ensure supply for brand-owners looking to make the switch to fiber-based materials.

How should the packaging value chain take responsibility for sustainability challenges like improving recycling rates and reducing emissions?

Each actor in the value chain plays a significant role in addressing these challenges, including enhancing packaging circularity and minimizing harmful emissions. While individual actions and ambitious sustainability targets are important, value chain players cannot act alone as the greatest sustainability progress is achieved collaboratively. This can include sharing knowledge and best practices, as well as joining together on infrastructure investment projects.

For example, in 2021, we announced our collaboration with Tetra Pak to triple the recycling capacity of used beverage carton (UBC) in Poland. To support this endeavor, Stora Enso is building a fiber recycling line at our production site in Ostroleka, Poland, while Tetra Pak will build a separate line nearby to process polymers and foil. The project will eventually handle Poland’s entire UBC volume and overflow from neighboring countries.

Can your newest products be processed in common recycling facilities?

Ensuring the technical recyclability of our current and future products is priority and we are working toward guaranteeing that 100% of our products are recyclable by 2030. We will do this through innovation that focuses on reducing non-renewable materials, like plastics commonly found in coatings, and improving overall packaging recyclability.

Our current portfolio and future products undergo testing for recyclability that meets industry guidelines, including verification that our materials are recyclable at scale in recycling plants, re-pulpability tests, and consideration of access to collection and sorting systems by actual recyclers. However, the actual recyclability of the final converted product always needs to be tested by the customer in the end-use market.

How do fiber-based packaging materials compare to recycled plastic-based alternatives?

It is most important to note that the footprint of a package depends on several factors unrelated to material including weight, transportation distance, and others. Raw materials are just one component of a package’s overall environmental footprint, albeit an important one. The first step is using an establish, verifiable means of evaluating environmental impact, like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

In our webinar, we spoke about minimizing plastic by replacing it with fiber-based solutions. In one example, we compared beverage carton to both virgin PET and recycled PET (rPET). Results from a recent LCA revealed that beverage carton outperformed PET and rPET in the climate impact category, though rPET created a smaller footprint than virgin PET. However, recycled plastic still originates from non-renewable sources. This is compared to truly circular fiber-based materials that have their beginnings in sustainably managed forests and enjoy high collection rates in Europe.

Watch webinar on the same topic here

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