In order to make packaging sustainable, all processes are based on the concept of a circular economy, from purchasing raw materials, through product design, right up to the production process. Georg Kasperkovitz, CEO Consumer Packaging at Mondi, explains what matters.
Mr Kasperkovitz, the aim of the circular economy is to use raw materials repeatedly, and in doing so using as few primary raw materials as possible. What contribution can the packaging industry make towards achieving this goal?
A very large one! The packaging industry plays an important role when it comes to using raw materials sparingly and sustainably. This begins with the purchase of raw materials. For example, Mondi purchases the wood for its paper production exclusively from certified or verified sources. We even run our own forestry operations in various countries and cooperate with the World Wide Fund for Nature, with the aim of further optimising sustainability and resource conservation.
Mondi offers both paper and plastic packaging. Why do you offer both in your range?
Paper is generally considered the more sustainable packaging because it is easier to recycle. However, paper is not always the more sustainable solution when it comes to the entire life cycle and certain packaging areas. Due to its barrier properties, plastic is indispensable in many areas and – if recycled – can also be sustainable. Optimising packaging materials is an integral part of our product development process to produce tailor-made packaging: paper where possible, plastic when useful. So we need both in the packaging industry: plastic and paper.
What concepts exist out there to make packaging as resource-efficient as possible?
In the food sector, barrier properties are indispensable for the shelf life and freshness of products. As an integrated supplier, it is precisely here that we can develop tailor-made solutions and thus make a valuable contribution towards a sustainable society. With a wide range of sustainable product innovations, such as our patented paper and barrier solution perFORMing, we make a valuable contribution towards a resource-saving economy. Compared to the packaging used previously, our paper-based solution has reduced the use of plastics by 70 percent and the CO2 footprint by around two thirds.
In the case of plastic packaging, it is important to prioritise the use of mono-materials wherever possible, i.e. those that are made of only one type of plastic. They are easier to recycle than packaging made from various plastics and generate recyclates of equivalent quality.
After recycling, it should be possible to reuse the recovered raw materials. However, the use of recycled material in plastic packaging is still very low throughout the industry, in contrast to the proportion of recovered paper...
That is true. With respect to the circular economy, however, plastic packaging should also be made from as much recycled material as possible. This works well for instance with packaging for cleaning agents and detergents. There are hygiene-related restrictions for food and pet food – a lot of pioneering work is still required here.
In cooperation with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we recently developed a flexible recyclable plastic bag made of at least 20 percent recycled plastic from household waste. These bags can be used to package household goods such as detergents. At the same time, they meet customers’ design requirements and look attractive on the shelf. As the project's name “Project Proof” would suggest, we wanted to prove that all these requirements can be reconciled.
As a packaging company, can you determine the product design on your own?
If we want to create sustainable packaging, we have to get the companies that want to pack their goods and the end consumers on board. After all, they are the ones who are buying the products at the end of the day. For example, we worked together with Werner & Mertz for the Frosch brand and developed a packaging made of a flexible plastic bag plus a banderole - a printed, easily removable label. The plastic packaging itself is not printed and is therefore 100 percent recyclable. This packaging design saves up to 70 percent of CO2 emissions and almost three quarters of the material in comparison to traditional, rigid packaging.
The production of packaging also consumes raw materials such as water and fossil fuels, and releases greenhouse gases into the air. How can production be made more sustainable?
Production efficiency is an important aspect when it comes to sustainable packaging. The production process should be designed so that there is little surplus and efficient use of energy. Mondi has invested over 400 million euros in energy efficiency measures since 2013. This has enabled us to reduce our CO2 emissions from paper production by more than 14 percent over the past five years.
This also pays off financially for us. Thanks to these investments, we have efficient plants, less downtime, longer maintenance intervals, have to pay less CO2 taxes, and can achieve the same production output with less energy.
Plastic is indispensable in many packaging applications and – if recycled –is also sustainable.
You work with a large number of cooperation partners. Why is working with a variety of stakeholders so important to you?
In short: Because the circular economy only works if everyone works together. We need high-quality raw materials to produce functional and sustainable packaging. Our customers want appealing and very functional packaging that is attractive to the end consumer. Consumers need to know how to dispose of their packaging. And the recycling companies need packaging from which they can recover the highest possible quality of raw materials for new packaging. That's why we rely on cooperation: We bring all stakeholders together from the outset and can thus quickly and sustainably find solutions that meet all needs and requirements.
Source: Handelsblatt – 1 August 2019
Read the original article in German here