The countdown is on for the live Sustainability Awards 2019 ceremony, where we will unveil the worthy winners of the most prestigious sustainability competition for packaging innovation.

In anticipation, we explore the 25 standout solutions that made it to the finals, handpicked by our independent, expert judging panel. Today we talk to Plafco Fibertech Finland about its biodegradable and marine degradable fibre composite, which has been nominated in the 'Resource Efficiency' category.

The winners in each category and overall 2019 Sustainability Awards winner will be announced at FachPack, Nuremberg, Germany on 25th September. Join us from 16:30 at FachPack’s PackBox Forum for sustainability discussion, networking, drinks and the big reveal.

Congratulations on being selected as a Sustainability Awards 2019 finalist! Could you please introduce your successful initiative?

Thank you very much. We are very honoured and looking forward to the finals. Plafco Fibertech is a spin-off company based on a new technological innovation developed through a EU project. Our idea is to upgrade paper to cellulosic composite topping the properties of existing paper-based packaging and also to substitute plastics in several packaging products. All this is done using existing paper technology and without hazardous chemicals.

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and how well is the market responding to them so far?

Customer awareness about sustainable packaging has been increasing in the last few years. All the issues with plastic and microplastic waste need to be solved now. Plafco can deliver a substitute material, which fulfils all the requirements for sustainable material and is recyclable in paper recycling loops. Feedback from customers in different packaging sectors has been very positive. Plafco Fibertech is still a startup company prototyping and scaling up with customers. We expect to get the first products to market next year.

‘Sustainable packaging’ is a contentious concept, which means different things to different people, and anyone working in packaging understands that it’s easy to make things worse according to one environmental metric while making improvements according to another. In your opinion should there be a hierarchy among our sustainability goals?

Definitely. We are actually working in collaboration with DHBW Karlsruhe on this topic and there is PhD work being done on sustainability measures for packaging products, including the new plastic substituting materials. New materials are developed faster than the measures are updated. Cradle to cradle ideas need to be involved when evaluating the environmental impact. Plafco Fibertech aims to develop materials to be fully recyclable in working paper recycling loops, as well as being compostable and marine degradable, fully bio-based and microplastic-free.

Clearly, sustainability in packaging needs to be achieved by many stakeholders acting together, not by someone with a silver bullet. Thinking about the wider picture, what areas of innovation or action would you like to see across the value chain in the coming years to meet the demands of nature and society?

There are many young startups like ours with innovative solutions coming up, and they need good partners and networks to move forward.