This article was originally published on 14 March 2021 in s a special publication in German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on "Packaging & Circular Economy“.
Germany’s mountain of packaging waste is growing — especially during the pandemic. The main culprit: the rise in eCommerce. Increasingly consumers are demanding more sustainable packaging. Recyclable solutions that consider the value chain can prevent waste.
In the e-mobility, energy and packaging sectors, companies and their products need to adjust the way they are fighting climate change. While consumers want to shop with a clear conscience, investors are looking for secure returns and a sustainable approach. Meanwhile, the EU wants to be climate-neutral by 2050 and is tightening its rules.
From 2023, all companies within the EU with more than 250 employees will have to report on non-financial statements such as CO2 emissions — a necessary step if we look at the packaging sector. Germany is wasting valuable resources when managing plastic packaging, with 90% of packaging made from new plastics and more than half incinerated after use.
This amounts to 1.6 million metric tons of plastic packaging worth €3.8 billion annually. Although plastic collection and recycling rates are high, we continue to see a one-way system from production to disposal.
Also, a study by WWF and the think tank SYSTEMIQ on the German packaging system proves that a more closed-loop flow for plastic packaging is possible. The primary adjustments to be made are: innovative recycling models, avoiding and minimising unnecessary packaging and a recycling friendly design.
According to the WWF, this could save a good 20 million metric tons of plastic by 2040 — equivalent to more than six times Germany's annual plastic packaging consumption.
"Instead of trying to compensate for the throwaway mentality through the existing packaging waste infrastructure, avoiding waste and innovative reusable solutions must take centre stage," says Laura Griestop, an expert on Plastics and Packaging at WWF Germany. Currently, packaging and disposables account for almost 60% of German plastic waste — 39 kg of plastic waste alone per person — significantly more than the European average.
So what can be done? The global packaging and paper manufacturer Mondi is aware of its responsibility here. Its entire value chain is geared towards sustainability, with a customer-oriented “EcoSolutions" approach to environmentally friendly packaging solutions. Mondi has also launched the 10-year action plan MAP2030 (Mondi Action Plan 2030) to comply with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our guiding principle is: “paper where possible, plastic when useful”.
By 2025 the company wants all packaging solutions to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
To achieve our goal, we have developed a circularity scorecard, which helps us evaluate our sustainable product solutions based on their impact at the end of their life cycle and their sustainable material content. In this way, we can further drive product innovation and track our performance against the MAP2030 targets. This will benefit not only Mondi but also our customers.
Finding the most efficient and, at the same time, most sustainable solution is a complex matter. All-round protection combined with sustainability is a much sought-after feature in packaging — especially true when you consider these alarming figures: around one-third of all food in the world is disposed of before it ever reaches the dinner table. Vegetables and fruit account for one-fifth of all food wasted in Europe, while milk, fish and meat account for just under a third of the food lost. However, intelligent packaging can contribute to preventing food waste.
With this in mind, Mondi has developed solutions that protect food during transport and storage and help the environment. Intelligent packaging extends the shelf life of products and remains a valuable resource in the life cycle. With the development of a recyclable polypropylene film — particularly suitable for keeping meat, sausages and cheese fresh — the packaging specialist has met sustainability and technical requirements. As a result, customers are even willing to pay more for CO2-neutral alternatives.
According to a quantitative study by Mondi and the market research institute YouGov with participants from Germany and Poland, many consumers value sustainable packaging when shopping online. Just under half of the respondents stated that they would be willing to pay more if the packaging is environmentally friendly while still offering adequate protection and handling. The survey also shows that most consumers are opposed to oversized packaging and too much packaging.
Ecommerce, in particular, is seen as a driver for sustainable packagings, such as corrugated packaging solutions.
The global pandemic has accelerated online shopping behaviour, and this trend has come to stay. In addition, from our annual eCommerce survey, we can see that the demand for sustainable packaging continues. More than three-quarters of online shoppers prefer eCommerce packaging that is reusable or easily recyclable for returns, and they are willing to pay up to three euros more for it. Also included here is the Silver Surfer generation — people aged 55 and over who represent a growing consumer segment in e-commerce. Nine out of ten will be shopping online in 2022, 49% more than in the previous year.
The topic of sustainability has taken its place at the centre of society. Mondi has recognised the customers' desire for more fact-based information to help them achieve their sustainability goals. Advantage StretchWrap, a kraft paper developed by Mondi that can be stretched and is puncture-resistant, is a prime example of how we achieved this. After two years of development, the material was suitable for packaging heavy pallets used in transportation. Mondi requested an independent life cycle analysis. The ISO-based assessment concluded that the new paper scored well in several environmental impact categories, including climate change, with 62% lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Therefore, the Advantage StretchWrap paper is suitable for companies who want to reduce their plastic consumption and, at the same time, reduce their carbon footprint.
Another great example is a new refill pouch developed for Henkel’s ‘Pril’ brand — a detergent for washing dishes by hand. The flexible stand-up pouch reduces plastic consumption by 70% every time because it replaces stiff plastic bags and meets high recycling standards.
Thomas Ott points out that the packaging company also relies on strategic partnerships to help shift from a throwaway society to a circular economy: "We believe in the strength of collaboration. For example, we support the World Food Program (WFP). Here, the partnership focuses on improving quality standards for WFP packaging while minimising the impact on the environment by leveraging Mondi’s packaging know-how. Mondi's extensive packaging capabilities and R&D infrastructure enable us to explore sustainable packaging solutions without compromising on functionality — critical for WFP’s work.
Mondi is also a member of the Ellen McArthur Foundation. As part of this partnership, we exchange ideas with other industries on the efficient use of plastics.”