As carbon emissions accelerate the climate crisis, the urgent message from scientists is clear. If we pass the 1.5- to two-degree benchmark laid out by the United Nation’s Paris Agreement, then alongside melting ice caps, we will have far larger problems on our hands. The packaging industry has to play its part in developing sustainable solutions across the value chain. Along with many of the world’s other leading packaging and paper companies, Mondi is on a journey to contribute to a better world through its focus on sustainable product innovation, responsible manufacturing and an innovative approach to value chain partnership. Packaging Europe follows that journey.

Peter Oswald, CEO of Mondi is confident that it is possible to manage a sustainable business, and reduce carbon emissions while maintaining growth. He believes this strategy is a question of the right investments and mind-set. “Mondi is investing to reduce greenhouse gases across our business,” he comments. “Since 2013, we have invested €400 million in energy efficiency measures increasing the proportion of biomass-based renewable energy in our mills. This investment and other measures, such as switching to less carbon-intensive fuels, has made it possible to reduce our specific greenhouse gas emissions from our pulp and paper mills by 14.5 per cent since 2014.”

“Mondi has set long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets” continues Markus Gaertner, CEO of Mondi Fibre Packaging / Paper. “We have a target to reduce specific, production-related, emissions from our pulp and paper mills to 0.25 tonnes CO2 per tonne of saleable production by 2050 (against a 2014 baseline of 0.59 tonnes).  Our investments help reduce Mondi’s climate impact, while at the same time helping customers meet their own sustainability targets and commitments by providing sustainable packaging solutions.”

Best of both worlds

There is currently a lot of confusing information available to consumers comparing one type of packaging material to another. Mondi’s aim is to provide clarity for customers so they can meet their sustainability targets in a fact-based manner that benefits the end-consumers and the planet.

This customer-centric approach, which Mondi calls ‘EcoSolutions’, aims to make packaging products that are sustainable by design by offering both paper and plastic based solutions. According to the company, the goal of this approach is to help its customers fulfil their sustainability goals and commitments while performing all functions needed throughout the supply chain and contributing to a circular economy. This begins with responsible sourcing, production, transportation, to point of sale, to the consumer’s home, and ends with being recycled and reprocessed.

Graeme Smith, sustainability manager for Mondi Consumer Packaging, elaborates: “We work with our customers to ensure that the packaging solution that is produced is fit for purpose and sustainable by design.  In this way, we can help ensure that we manufacture a packaging material that has a reduced impact on the environment.  For example, we design packaging with recycling in mind, which means using as few materials as possible, so the product can be recycled without contamination from mixed materials. We use paper where possible, plastic when useful.”

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Mondi offers both paper and flexible plastic solutions that are sustainable by design. For example, for food packaging, the barrier properties of plastic play a vital role in keeping food fresh, while still having a small carbon impact relative to the production of the food. Lightweight packaging, which is also able to save on transport costs and emissions, and mono-materials with barrier protection that make plastics recyclable at the end of their life, improve the sustainability of packaging solutions.

In parallel, paper offers many benefits – it is a renewable material, and at the end of life it is easily recyclable and currently one of the most recycled materials around the world.  It’s also a lot stronger than people realise. Mondi Advantage MF SpringPack Plus paper is an efficient, high-strength low-grammage paper grade. A single sheet lifted a 4.2-tonne shipping container, achieving a Swedish Guinness World Record in 2001. A few years later, in an unofficial test it lifted a 9.8-tonne train engine. It is used for example, for compressed roll-packing of mattress springs, allowing space-efficient shipping.

Mondi’s various papers can stretch and bend to provide structural protection. They can also protect customers’ products with barrier coatings such as ‘Sustainex’, which is based on renewable resources and is certified as fully biodegradable. This coating provides paper with the barrier protection to make a functional solution for dry food, waste bags and hygiene products.

Asking the right questions

This customer-centric approach comes down to asking the right questions and understanding the customers’ needs for individual product protection throughout the entire value chain.

Graeme Smith explains the type of questions Mondi considers: “What is the end application, and what barriers are necessary to protect or extend the shelf life of the product? What are the transportation logistics and how can we ensure the packaging delivered is packed as efficiently as possible? What are the storage conditions? What certifications and responsible sourcing are necessary for the customer to have truly sustainable packaging? What sorting and recycling infrastructure is available where the products will be produced and sold?”

With this method, Mondi can begin to understand the entire value chain of the customer’s product, making it possible to innovate together to find new opportunities to optimise production and packaging while protecting the environment.

Back to the three Rs

There are three actions that Mondi prioritises to provide sustainable solutions for their customers: replace, reduce, recycle. Replace materials with more sustainable options, reduce the volume of raw material used through operational efficiency and raw material choices, and design paper and plastic solutions for recycling.

An example of where the company has found a hybrid solution to replace a less sustainable solution is PerFORMing, a shallow paper tray that is treated with a barrier coating. Its challenge was to create a thermoforming paper packaging for fresh food products such as meat, fish and cheese slices, with the same food protection and shelf life characteristics as the original less sustainable packaging. In Austria, REWE, one of Europe’s largest retailers, was looking for a sustainable solution to pack their cheese products of their organic brandJa! Natürlich’. Mondi worked with them to bring this new packaging to market, which can be recycled in the Austrian paper stream. Based on a life cycle and environmental impact assessment conducted by Quantis, it has shown that it has a lower carbon footprint than the plastic tray it replaces.

On the paper side, another example is a new form-fill-seal pouch made out of Advantage Smooth White Strong paper, which replaces a plastic bag for pasta packaging. Mondi worked together with its customer Fiorini - a European leader for converting paper for bag manufacturing for e.g. sugar, flour and pasta - to meet the growing demand for more sustainable packaging by providing a paper alternative with optimal production performance on the packing machines and excellent printability for food labelling. Mondi produces paper grades that focus on the special end-use needs for FFS applications. The sealing technique requires food glue that reactivates to heat inside the package that covers about one centimetre of the opening, which is then folded and sealed. The pasta bag is made of 97 per cent paper including the window, making the packaging designed for recycling in most European paper waste streams.

For flexible packaging, Barrier Pack Recyclable is a mono-material that was developed by the company as a sustainable alternative for customers. The material has the same barrier properties and functionality, but is fully recyclable, replacing a less sustainable multi-layer plastic pouch. It can be used, for example, to keep pet food fresh.  Working together with the Dutch Bio-Organic Pet food brands Yarrah and DANO, Mondi developed a Barrier Pack Recyclable pouch with a resealable zipper to keep pet snacks fresh, while replacing the previous non-recyclable packaging.

Stronger Together

When tackling climate change, a more holistic approach is necessary, and collaboration is vital to find the solutions to transition to a circular economy. According to Mondi’s vision, companies need to work closely with customers, and more innovative partnerships can take place when knowledge and expertise is shared between supplier and client. “Packaging can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases when managed responsibly throughout its life cycle,” says Mr Oswald. “It can be part of the solution, but only when coordinated across the entire supply chain, and recycled at its end of life.”

Mondi is working with partners such as the WWF Climate Savers and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Business Council Forest Solutions Group. Through these partnerships, different elements of the supply chain can work together to reduce the use of raw materials, their carbon footprint and increase the circular use of plastic through producing recyclable material, or reducing the need for virgin raw material by using post-consumer waste. One collaboration example is a collaborative Pioneer Project with EMF, Project Proof, where suppliers, converters, FMCG’s, and retailers collaborated in a non-competitive space to engineer flexible packaging produced with 25 per cent post-consumer waste.

“Such collaborations will be crucial to finding sustainable innovations,” concludes Mr Oswald. “In the race to protect our planet, sustainable packaging can contribute to a better world.”