Sustainability is complicated, and when it comes to packaging, it can manifest itself in many ways and on many levels. Most consumers want ‘to do the right thing’ but as feedback from trade event ProSweets19 showed, they often lack understanding about the complexities of materials composition, when paper or plastic is the best option, and the development of recycling technologies and global cooperation which is expanding the array of products that are fully recyclable.
So Mondi, a global industry leader in sustainable packaging and paper solutions, and Munich-based Pacoon GmbH, a packaging strategy and design consultancy have joined forces to better educate both businesses and consumers on more sustainable packaging and recycling behaviour including an interactive map demonstrating differing waste approaches across the globe.
Finding the Package that Fits
The good news is that consumers are talking about packaging, and stakeholders across the packaging value chain are working together on an unprecedented level to ensure solutions are being fast-tracked. But there is a lot more education that needs to happen.
Pacoon displayed several concepts at the ProSweets 2019 fair focusing on features ranging from recyclability and renewably sourced materials, to bioplastics, coated paper, and mono-material package constructions, including Mondi’s mono-material BarrierPack Recyclable - a stand-up pouch which is 100% recyclable.
Thomas Kahl, Project Manager EcoSolutions for Mondi Consumer Packaging explains, “BarrierPack Recyclable is constructed from two layers of polyethylene (PE). The material is stiffer, stronger and lighter than a conventional PET/PE laminate of the same thickness, and it can be used for pre-made packaging as stand-up pouches, or formed directly on form/fill/seal (FFS) machines. It also offers the added benefit of a high processing/fill rate”.
Busting Sustainability Myths: One Pouch at a Time
“The variety of packaging options surprised the 400-plus visitors to the stand, and the feedback was very good,” said Peter Désilets, Pacoon’s General Manager, while noting that “many were not aware of all the different strategies available to address sustainability and the selection process required depending on their market needs”.
A particularly common myth is that biodegradable is always better when in fact it is not. Consumers also have a lack of understanding about the difference between plastics based on fossil or renewable resources. And the thinking that plastic-free packaging is better still dominates, even though life cycle analyses show us that plastic packaging can be the most sustainable choice.
Paper or Plastic?
Mondi’s view is that packaging should always be fit-for-purpose – paper where possible, plastic when useful – sustainable by design. As a producer of both paper and plastic based packaging, the Group carefully monitors trends and is well-positioned to work with Pacoon to steer brand owners and consumers toward the most sustainable solution for each application.
Researchers are increasingly developing paper- and fibre-based packaging that offer barriers to replace plastic foil, which can render mixed-material packages unrecyclable. This functional paper is a challenge for our industry, but also a great opportunity if they are suitable for fibre recycling streams, Kahl said.
“It is possible to produce effective packaging for products such as biscuits or chocolate without using a foil layer. This still amazes people.” Désilets said. And water-based coatings on paper can be used to make sealable or even thermoformable paper grades for direct food contact – for example Mondi’s perFORMing solution reduces plastic by up to 70% by using coated Advantage Formable paper instead of plastic in trays for attractive cheese and cold meat packaging.
Recycling for the future
Advancements in recycling technology already include improved waste collection, better plastic detection, improved sorting of smaller parts, more efficient chemical recycling of multilayer structures, and increased PET recycling. As recycling options expand, Désilets expects compounding and package-design changes to enable a greater use of a combination of recyclates and virgin material in food packaging.
One of the keys to recycling, according to both Kahl and Désilets, is the need for all stakeholders to take a common approach, since a patchwork of single-country strategies will only serve to undermine the greater mission if not all goals are met. Global communication and collaboration at all stages of product design, development, use, collection, recycling and reuse will be central to future success.
Educating the End Consumer
Fact-based recycling education is vital. Pacoon has developed an interactive map showing differing waste approaches across the globe. Global data analyses by country shows real life waste treatment practices, including deposit laws, combustion/ incineration, recycling, landfilling and additional information on local country laws which confirms that a one size fits all approach to sustainable recycling and waste practices will not work.
“Countries with little recycling infrastructure or landfill would be better served by compostable packaging. Organic brands may be able to rely on renewable raw materials. Countries with a high recycling infrastructure need to focus on recyclability and/or recycled materials. Climatic conditions also influence the use of materials.” says Désilets.
For many years Mondi has been making sustainable fibre-based and flexible plastic packaging for forward-thinking FMCG brands, and working in collaboration with sustainable materials suppliers and recyclers. Kahl adds, “As the #1 producer of kraft paper and paper bags, Mondi is well positioned to transform selected plastic packaging to paper packaging. When the barrier properties of plastic are required for functionality, Mondi can substitute rigid with flexible packaging which typically uses 70% less plastic. We also have innovative recyclable plastic solutions.”
Never has package design and material choice come more under scrutiny –– and for good reason, because inefficient packaging is a major contributor to the world’s waste problem. Conversely, intelligent, well-conceived packaging can solve challenges without compromising performance. Both Mondi and Pacoon intend to stay at the forefront of sustainable packaging innovation.