The global packaging and paper group Mondi is contributing to a better world, with innovative and sustainable packaging solutions, and proving that non-recyclable plastic can increasingly be replaced by paper.
Buying vegetables directly from farmers, flying less, using less water – an increasing number of consumers are living more sustainable lives, and at the same time expect companies to offer them sustainable options, according to a recent study by market intelligence agency Mintel.
As we move towards 2030, companies will transition towards zero emissions, consumers will become more environmentally conscious, natural resources will become ever more threatened. There is a great opportunity here for society to ask the right questions and for businesses, governments and civil society to take positive, impactful action to address the climate crisis.
Paper where possible, plastic when useful
Mondi is firmly committed to these objectives and has been meeting its customers' evolving needs with innovative packaging and paper solutions for many years. The Group always uses paper where possible, plastic only when useful. By applying this principle, it has revolutionised the packaging market and in doing so has won numerous awards over the years, including five WorldStar Packaging Awards in 2020. Thanks to Mondi, products for which paper packaging used to be considered unsuitable have been liberated from plastic, or the plastic content has been reduced to a minimum, thereby creating more sustainable options. The contents stay fresh and dry, and the packaging is recyclable.
Longer life cycle
EcoSolutions is Mondi's customer centric approach to replace less sustainable packaging, reduce raw material usage, and design packaging which is ready to recycle. The result is to create bespoke solutions ensuring that customers can deliver on their sustainable packaging commitments. “Based on each customer’s sustainability goals, we determine which packaging is the most sustainable solution for achieving them,” explains Markus Gärtner, CEO Corrugated Packaging at Mondi. “Optimisation of the packaging material plays a key role in that process.”
A good example is the sliced organic hayflower cheese sold by Austrian supermarkets Billa, Merkur, ADEG and Sutterlüty. Instead of using plastic packaging this has now been replaced by natural-brown paper trays which are produced at one of Mondi’s Austrian plants using wood mainly from domestic sources. They re-enter the materials cycle in the form of waste paper, as they are comprised of 80% virgin fibre and only 20% plastic. Relative to conventional plastic packaging, plastic usage is reduced by 70%, and the carbon footprint is reduced by around two-thirds.
Strong, multiple-use paper bags
Gärtner is especially proud of Mondi’s paper bags with up to 80% recycled content, which are popular among supermarkets and clothing stores. “One of our slogans is ‘Let’s paper the world’, and true to that claim we’re the world’s only paper producer to have equipped an entire paper machine solely for this production,” he points out.
One such bag can be found in the fruit and vegetable section of many Austrian and Swiss supermarkets. “The reason consumers prefer plastic-based bags is clear: they don’t allow moisture to penetrate to the outside,” notes Gärtner. “So it’s up to us as a company to offer a sustainable solution. Our answer is the EcoComp bag, which is made of a water-repellent, air-permeable paper.”
This paper bag absorbs moisture, (for example if a fruit gets squashed); at the same time, the bag allows air to circulate, thereby preventing mould. Once the fruit has been eaten, the bag can be used as a rubbish bag for biodegradable waste. In Sweden these bags can already be disposed of along with household waste. “Waste management services in Sweden accept our paper and compost the bags along with biodegradable waste. It’s an excellent example of a multiple-use product for the circular economy,” says Gärtner.
Sustainability is part of Mondi’s DNA
Mondi is fully integrated across the value chain – from managing forests and producing pulp, paper and plastic films to developing and manufacturing effective industrial and consumer packaging solutions. “At Mondi, sustainability is firmly embedded in all areas of our business model,” says Gärtner. “It isn’t just the products themselves: our paper mills are electricity self-sufficient, with surpluses fed into local electricity networks. In paper production, two-thirds of the energy consumed is from renewable sources, mostly from biomass, which arises as part of the production processes anyway. We’re well ahead of our competitors in that respect.”
In design too, Mondi is focused on sustainability. “We focus on our customers’ sustainability goals,” emphasises Gärtner. At all its major sites, Mondi has set up design centres where it collaborates closely with customers on a product’s exact requirements. “We strive to offer a range of solutions which meet the specifications, while ensuring that material usage is as low as possible thanks to our sophisticated designs. This approach is proving very popular with our customers.
Of note, we developed a fully recyclable, flexible plastic-based bag with detachable printed panels, developed in a joint effort with cleaning and care products company Werner & Mertz. Once the bag is empty, the decorative panels can be removed from the non-printed material, which means the recycled material is nearly equivalent in quality to the original material.
People need to feel good about using the most responsible materials possible, be that paper or plastic or new materials. This will only be achieved by having transparent information available to them and for businesses to think creatively on how to meet emerging trends and concerns.
Mondi’s approach to the circular economy is encapsulated in the motto ‘Replace, Reduce, Recycle’. One of the Group’s biggest challenges is ensuring that these sustainability messages are successfully conveyed to consumers. “What we need is clear, comparable facts that help explain the issues to consumers, allowing them to make their own informed decisions about more sustainable solutions,” says Gärtner. “These are messages that our industry as a whole needs to get across.”
This article first appeared in "themenbote Circular Economy - 28 April 2020”.