Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Sappi Europe
With 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions dependent on the way we produce and consume products and food, sustainable flexible packaging has never been more important.
In 1907, Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic. It was marketed as ‘the material of a thousand uses’ – by the time of Baekeland’s death in 1944, it was in use in more than 15,000 products. Plastic was the future. The world went crazy for it.
Except plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose and is difficult to recycle. According to the OECD, of the 460 million tonnes of plastic produced worldwide in 2019, only 9% was recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, dumpsites or the ocean. Plastic has become the poster child for our consumerist, throwaway society.
Plastic waste impacts
Most plastic waste comes from packaging. For example, in 2021, approximately 583 billion plastic bottles were produced(75 bottles for every adult, childand babyon the planet). Each year, enough bubble wrap is produced to stretch from the earth to the moon. According to WRAP, a global climate action NGO, 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions are dependent on the way we produce and consume products and food. The situation simply isn’t sustainable.
Why we need packaging
Much packaging fulfils a vital function — it keeps food and other goods fresh and protected as well as enabling efficient delivery. It’s also the consumer’s first point of contact with a product.
However, pressure for change in the packaging industry is growing — from consumers and regulators alike. Last year, the EU set out plans to aggressively reduce packaging waste through reuse and recycling, aiming for a 15% reduction per member state per capita. Last year also saw 175 countries endorse the UN Environmental Assembly’s resolution to ban plastic pollution. Of course, plastics will always have their place in the world — numerous important products simply can’t be made without plastic. But genuine change requires a genuine alternative.
More brands in food, confectionary, cosmetics and other sectors can make the conscious transition out of plastic with confidence.
Flexible woodfibre packaging solution
At Sappi, we create woodfibre-based flexible packaging solutions that are, by nature, both renewable and recyclable. And we’re starting from a good place. Recycling rates for paper packaging are high — in the EU, 56.1 million tonnes of paper and board were collected and recycled in 2020, representing a recycling rate of more than 84%— and being driven higher by paper industry initiatives.
In the past, difficulties have arisen when using paper as the primary packaging for sealed foods. As a rule, a barrier is required to protect the product and prevent leakage — and paper doesn’t naturally have such a barrier. So, companies like us have worked to innovate thin dispersion coatings that add barrier functionality without interfering with the subsequent paper recycling process.
From innovation to sustainability
This year, thanks to a major investment in a state-of-the-art paper machine and team at our Alfeld mill in Germany, Sappi can now add much of the functionality of plastic film packaging to our barrier papers. That means more brands in food, confectionary, cosmetics and other sectors can make the conscious transition out of plastic with confidence.
It’s not easy to invest in and launch new technologies when you are up against a fossil-based material that has been so dominant for so long. But at Sappi, we firmly believe in the innovative potential of woodfibre to create sustainable solutions in flexible packaging and beyond.
That’s why we support initiatives such as the Paperpack Community — a new online platform and community dedicated to allowing paper packaging professionals to connect, learn and share the latest information and insights about fibre-based solutions. Ultimately, what makes me confident and energised is seeing the kind of futureproof solutions we are developing make a real difference – in the market and the wider, bio-based circular economy.