How to solve the materials puzzle

The challenge of providing packaging that balances resource efficiency with the lowest possible environmental impact is one that every member of the packaging industry is familiar with. There is no ‘perfect’ solution, but Mondi looks at some of the strategies the industry could be employing to help turn the tide of climate change.

Last month’s alarming IPCC global climate change report – the first since 2013 – found that human activity is damaging the climate ‘irreversibly’. We don’t need to look further than the recent devastating fires and floods across the globe to know that action needs to be taken now to address climate change and the importance of innovating for a circular economy. So what can we do in the packaging sector to ensure we play our role to mitigate the environmental impact of packaging? Broadly, the value chain from manufacturers, to brand owners, and converters need to innovate and collaborate. Only then can we find the right answers and approach. It’s complicated, though. Mondi, a global leading packaging and paper company, shares its vision of sophisticated packaging strategies for a complex world.

Packaging isn’t perfect, but it serves an essential purpose
While we are all keen to provide the most sustainable packaging solutions, the resources used to produce and protect goods during transport are also a factor. The issue is that there isn’t one alternative that satisfies every criterion better than the others: what’s best forweight and resource efficiency may not be the best for preventing damage or avoiding packaging waste, and vice-versa. It’s a work in progress – and now the subject of a dialogue between a brand and its audience. This is the case for all manufacturers and packaging producers. How do we provide packaging that protects the product alongside having the lowest environmental impact?

Take a more holistic approach
Approaching packaging strategies and specifications in a nuanced and objective way that goes beyond what is the latest trend consumers are asking for requires taking a step back. Developing packaging that is sustainable by design means focusing on the purpose while optimizing the material, and even changing it completely if necessary. How companies identify these opportunities and work together along the value chain needs to be reconsidered. As innovations in paper, plastic, and hybrid solutions continue to develop, so does imagining new possibilities for paper and plastic applications. To get to that perfect solution, we need to question everything. This means looking at all the solutions, production processes, materials, and specifications needed to protect the product. Mondi is leading the way, reimagining how paper and plastic can be a part of the solution.

Mondi’s Advantage StretchWrap shows what’s possible
An example of this is Advantage StretchWrap, a paper Mondi developed to stretch and resist punctures. First created to wrap around mattresses, Mondi realized the paper could be even thinner, which led the team to investigate what else it could be used for. They were able to envisage wrapping heavy pallets for transportation. Further R&D and the backwards integration in paper production meant that vision became a reality, and within two years of development, the paper could replace the current plastic industry standard for pallet wrapping and has the potential to replace a significant amount of plastic for specific applications. The solution uses responsibly sourced natural fibres and is recyclable. This demonstrates that by applying expertise and investing in development, in many cases, paper can do the job just as well as plastic.

“If it takes time, research, and development to get there, then so be it, as we know our customers want more fit-for-purpose packaging that is sustainable by design.” Thomas Kahl, EcoSolutions Manager at Mondi

New technological advancements mean paper and corrugated are delivering in areas where just a few years ago, the standard was lower. This approach aims to provide the most sustainable packaging solution, but recognizes that the material used in that packaging is, ultimately, secondary to its purpose. Advantage StretchWrap is something that had not even been imagined to be possible in the past. With this solution and others, producers need to take into account the whole life cycle of the packaging and ask the following questions. Does the end user know how to dispose of the packaging correctly? Is a sorting and recycling scheme available in that country? Is more paper used to pack something than plastic and is more energy (and therefore emissions) needed to produce it? Asking all these questions is part of Mondi’s EcoSolutions approach, which involves working closely with its customers to examine everything about their packaging needs and product requirements from the outset – the contents, the logistics, the end user, the existing lines, the shelf life, and even the communication to the consumer. The starting point is function, followed by sustainability goals, geographical regions, supply chains and legislation, then the available recycling infrastructure. Mondi believes that these are all relevant when it comes to identifying and developing the ‘most sustainable’ packaging solution. “Only by working collaboratively with our customers in this way can we objectively look for the best possible result,” adds Kahl. One EcoSolutions success that Mondi has delivered was in collaboration with the retailer Tesco, where they managed to close the loop for Tesco’s shopping bags.
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