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New Developments in Sustainable Packaging in Europe
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Date posted
Sep 4, 2018
Sustainability

Innovation is an activity that drives sustainability – and sustainability provides a set of goals guiding innovation, according to Mondi. As part of our series of contributions from sponsors of the 2018 Sustainability Awards, the company shares its perspective on how it has built a portfolio of sustainable flexible packaging products and processes that give customers options to best meet their sustainability objectives based on this this understanding.

The story of plastic packaging features many impressive successes, which poor waste management has often overshadowed in the public eye. Nevertheless, brands and consumers alike benefit from the flexibility, functions and fashions that plastics make possible. Polyolefin-based plastics reduce packaging costs, enable lightweight protection and extend product shelf life by minimizing contamination and spoilage.

Flexible plastic packaging is now the fastest growing packaging segment. Global demand is estimated to grow in Europe by around two per cent per annum, in the Americas by two to four per cent and across Asia by a staggering six to eight per cent. This growth is being driven by a number of factors: from a growing middle class to greater urbanization and an increase in smaller households – all fueling demand for diversified and convenient packaging solutions.

A turning tide

More recently, modern consumerism’s single-use behavior has prompted people to re-evaluate traditional plastic packaging due to the impact of plastic waste on the world’s oceans and land-based environments. In essence, the advent and sweeping adoption of fossil-based throwaway plastics has made them a victim of their own success.

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As consumers place more importance on sustainability, governments, producers and retailers are heeding the call to deal with plastics more responsibly. In January 2018, the European Commission announced in a strategy to ensure that all plastic packaging will be reusable or recyclable by 2030. Currently, approximately 30 per cent of the 25 million tonnes of Europe’s plastic waste is collected for recycling (with another 30 per cent going toward energy recovery). This new EU-wide plastic strategy will transform how products are designed, produced, used and recycled with the aim of reducing plastics’ environmental footprint while capturing the economic benefits of a circular approach.

Many private, charitable and NGO projects are also being launched in collaboration with companies that produce and use plastics. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos that 11 of the world’s largest food, beverage, clothing, personal care and household products companies have pledged to use packaging in a circular manner. This means they will work toward using 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.

The combined plastic packaging usage of these 11 companies amounts to over six million tonnes per year. The financial logic is clear to the entire value chain – to resin suppliers, packaging companies, FMCGs and retailers. By recovering plastics for a second or third use, they are creating value and helping the environment: The higher the recovery rate, the greater the value and environmental benefit.

Packaging goes circular

A variety of stakeholders have been hard at work developing ways to use constrained resources in a circular manner. Playing a decisive role in the packaging industry are organizations like The Ellen MacArthur Foundation with The New Plastics Economy Initiative and the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX), of which Mondi is a founding member.

Parallel to developments in the packaging industry, Mondi’s managers and engineers have been approaching innovation as an activity that drives sustainability and sustainability as a set of goals guiding innovation. This complementary understanding of innovation and sustainability has helped the company integrate a circular approach into its business practices in a way that creates value and manages risk for Mondi and for customers.

Over the years, the company has built a portfolio of sustainable products and processes to give customers the options that best meet their sustainability objectives. Sustainability has many aspects: reusability, resource efficiency, recovery and renewability, for example. In the current climate, however, recyclability represents the holy grail in an array of sustainability attributes.

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Uwe Obermann, director R&D and Innovation, Consumer Goods Packaging, and Carl Stonley, technical account manager at Mondi Consumer Goods Packaging, accept the Plastics Recycling Europe Show award for 'Best Technology Innovation in Plastics Recycling'.

The Holy Grail

Recently, Mondi introduced BarrierPack Recyclable, a laminate that is fully recyclable where a suitable recycling infrastructure exists. In places where the infrastructure is catching up to material innovations, BarrierPack is considered ‘recycling ready’. CeDo Recycling, a pioneer in recycling technologies, proved the material’s compatibility via extensive validation trials.

BarrierPack Recyclable offers exceptional mechanical properties and is ideal for a range of packaging formats. Constructed using two layers of PE film, BarrierPack Recyclable is stiffer, stronger and lighter than conventional PET/PE laminate of the same thickness and can be formed directly on FFS machines.

The innovation that really pushed BarrierPack Recyclable toward “holy grail” status was the addition of a gas barrier between the two PE layers. This addition opened up new high-volume markets for the material – most notably in fresh food and other food products requiring modified atmosphere packaging.

The Best Technology Innovation in Plastics Recycling prize – which BarrierPack won at the 2018 Plastics Recycling Europe Awards – underscores market expectations. Ton Emans, managing director at CeDo Recycling and president of Plastics Recyclers Europe, explains: “This innovation not only shows that flexible plastic packaging can become truly circular, but also that we can produce, use and recycle it on a large scale”

Circular thinking in practice

Mondi has been working with long-time consumer goods customer Henkel to help incorporate more of its scrap plastic into a highly functional, attractive and flexible laminate packaging material.

Committed to reducing its environmental footprint while creating more value for its consumers, Henkel is now selling its Megaperls washing powder in the new flexible ‘quadro seal bag’ for which the PE layer comprises 30 per cent of industrial waste, meaning 10 per cent regrind material in the overall structure. Mondi’s advanced resin reclamation technology will help the two companies forward on their mission to achieve a 50 per cent regrind composition.

Reducing carbon emissions with renewable materials

Finnish snacks, seasoning and coffee producer Paulig Group, which has made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, engaged Mondi to help develop solutions to replace all fossil fuel-based materials, including conventional PE, with renewable packaging alternatives by 2025.

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In response, Mondi rapidly adopted bio-based PE made from sugarcane to develop a new laminate consisting of a mix of standard PE and the new sugarcane-based PE. This solution provides the peel ability needed for easy opening. And with sealing temperatures and times comparable to standard PE laminates, Paulig could incorporate the bio-based PE smoothly into existing production operations.

To provide customers, consumers, and recyclers with useful tools for realising their individual sustainability ambitions, innovators at Mondi are constantly challenging the limits of what materials and processes can accomplish. BarrierPack Recyclable, material recovery and bio-PE are just the beginning. Mondi will continue to bring new innovations to the market – and to support sustainability projects initiated by peers. By creating momentum across the value chain, linear business models will gradually give way to a circular plastics economy that is better for the environment – and for business.

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