Replacing plastics is a global necessity and alternative solutions are widely sought after, especially in the single-use-oriented food industry. This has resulted in constantly growing demand of bio-based packaging solutions.
As a land of thousands of forests and one of the most innovative countries in the world, Business Finland says that the country offers wood-based innovations to replace traditional plastic packaging.
Almost 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced globally every year and in 2018, 174kg of packaging waste per inhabitant was generated just in the EU. The European Commission has set packaging recycling as one of its top priorities, and the first requirements of the SUP (single-use plastics) directive, approved back in 2019, should enter into force as early as July 2021.
The shift towards plastic-free packaging is fast and the future is made of sustainable, recyclable, renewable and low-carbon emission substitutes. Finland offers a wide selection of alternatives for different industries and needs.
“The packaging industry is at a turning point where the future of packaging is more versatile, bio-based and recyclable. As countries and companies announce their ambitious CO2 reduction goals, a low level of emissions is a must for new innovations,” says Marika Ollaranta, head of the bio and circular Finland programme from Business Finland, Finland’s trade, investment and travel promotion and innovation funding organisation.
With 75% of Finland covered in forest, forestry and wood-based industries are deep-rooted in Finnish society. Long traditions in finding innovative ways of using the side streams of the wood industry, such as fibres and pulp, have created a offering in bio-based solutions. Finland covers the complete value chain from PEFC certified forests to implementation-ready applications as well as recycling and reuse of wood fibres.
“Compared to other countries, we have our own well-kept forests that meet all global forest management standards. As the raw material is also refined here, the packaging innovations are often implementation-ready and fully applicable to the existing production machinery.
We are also known for the high quality and the wide spectrum of products meeting different industry-specific needs. We have excellent know-how when it comes to wood and as the famous saying goes, if it can be made from oil, it can be made from wood”, Ollaranta elaborates.
The wooden age of food packaging
The transition from traditional plastics to non-plastics applies to a range of industries, of which the food industry is one of the fastest changing. Despite the industry being at the core of the global plastics challenge, it is heading in a more sustainable direction.
In fact, Finland is on its way to becoming one of the first countries to have a completely transparent, safe and responsible food production chain as the industry strives for carbon neutrality and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2035. Much of the packaging solutions used by the food industry are already wood-based, which makes them renewable and recyclable to begin with.
Finnish experts answering to food industry’s needs with bio-based products include Woodly, Kotkamills, Pyroll Packaging, Sulapac, Jospak and Fazer.
Woodly is a material development technology company producing a new type of wood cellulose-based, transparent plastic-like material, called Woodly. It is carbon-neutral and the raw wood material comes from certified forests. The material is designed to be recycled in the plastic recycling stream after being used. It can also be burned if necessary.
Woodly products are available in several different material grades, making it suitable for different plastic processing methods and end-products. The company recently announced a partnership with Finnish meat producer HKScan, which will be the one in the meat product category in Finland to use Woodly material in the packaging of their selected grilled sausages in the summer of 2021. Also, a Finnish salad and herb producer Vihreakeiju uses Woodly for their packages, available for consumers.
“What distinguishes Woodly from others is that it doesn’t try to replace plastic, but rather produces it from renewable raw materials. Instead of abandoning the whole concept of “plastic”, we approached the problem from another angle and replaced the raw materials from which it has been traditionally made of. The Woodly grain is also extremely versatile, which makes it attractive for big customers”, says Jaakko Kaminen, CEO of Woodly.
Kotkamills is a Finnish sawn timber, paper and paperboard manufacturer that explores and develops new, fibre-based sustainable packaging solutions, being one of the forerunners in circular economy. Founded in 1872, Kotkamills sawmill is the oldest one still operating in Finland and nowadays the company makes sure no part of the wood goes to waste by using the side streams of the sawmill, wood chips and sawdust, as raw material of the company’s other products, paperboard and saturating base kraft paper.
Kotkamills also accelerates the circular change by producing fully recyclable paperboard, also with barriers, that is easily recyclable and its fibres re-usable as raw material of other paper or board products.
Kotkamills’ ISLA barrier boards can change the game in the single-use cup market. Unlike the commonly used cups containing polyethylene plastic, the water-based dispersion coated barrier boards are fully recyclable, biodegradable, industrially compostable as well as plastic-free. Because there is no polyethylene lining, products made of ISLA barrier board can be easily recycled along with normal paper and board waste.
“Our product category consists of food-safe consumer boards, high-quality saturating base kraft paper and ecological wood products. At the moment, we are the only industrial producer of plastic-free coated packaging boards for the food industry and the potential is huge” says, Markku Hamalainen, CEO of Kotkamills. In December 2020, Austrian Mayr-Melnhof Karton AB announced their acquisition of Kotkamills and closing of the transaction is expected over the summer 2021.
Pyroll Packaging provides comprehensive customer solutions for packaging and packaging materials, from designing and co-creating to manufacturing and supplying ready-to-use packaging materials. Their packaging solution selection is one of the largest ones in the Nordics.
The company’s PyrollGreen product family responds to the change in the industry and offers awarded sustainable and recyclable packaging alternatives made from bio-based fibres for bakery and dairy products, sweets and confectionary, processed meat and ready food, fast food and food-on-the-go such as salads, hamburgers, French fries and hotdogs.
“We do smart and sustainable packaging solutions. Our expertise lies in overall know-how and ability to combine different materials and find new solutions to create the best possible product for the customer”, says Tapani Holappa, sales director of Pyroll Packaging.
Combining for example their FormPap solution with fibre-based lidding materials, the amount of plastic needed in a package decreases significantly. Especially in Central Europe where single-packed foods, such as cold cuts and cheese, are popular this kind of a combination offers a more environmentally friendly option.
Sulapac, founded in 2016, offers a sustainable material alternative for conventional plastics. It is made of wood chips from industrial side-streams and responsibly sourced plant-based binders. Hence, it biodegrades without leaving permanent microplastics behind. Sulapac is ideal for various applications from fast-moving consumer goods to luxury packaging.
It is GMO-free and food contact approved according to EU standards. The company has been ranked as one of the 100 hottest start-ups in Europe by Wired UK in 2018 and 2019. Just recently, they announced a new ground-breaking innovation, a bio-based barrier that is suitable for water-based cosmetics. This has never been done before.
“The switch from conventional plastics has been made as easy as possible. Our drop-in solution material can be mass produced with the existing plastic machinery. This makes our beautiful, functional and sustainable Sulapac an appealing alternative for various plastic products”, says Suvi Haimi, CEO and co-founder of Sulapac.
Jospak’s flagship product Jospak-tray combines the best functionalities of board and plastics. The tray is formed from renewable and recyclable board and it helps to reduce the amount of plastics up to 85%. The product is suitable for a range of applications including various fresh and processed food products and ready meals in modified atmosphere packaging.
A recent carbon footprint analysis of the tray resulted in record-low numbers of 57,3-74,0g/ CO2e/piece, which is significantly lower compared to corresponding plastic trays and the company aims to reduce the environmental impact even more with further development of product, technology and operations. Jospak is planning to bring a new cardboard tray made without glue to the market in 2021.
“The new production line based on the new technology will start operating over the summer. Our recent investments in new facilities enable the increase of production capacity and development of new business models suitable for international markets.
Our goal is to become a circular economy provider as a producer of food packaging products. We already serve customers in Finland, the Nordic countries and Central Europe and we’re excited to officially launch our international operations in a bigger scale”, says Tarja Heikkila, sales and marketing director of Jospak.
New research on food packaging is also constantly taking place. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is piloting a Thermocell film made of wood cellulose and fatty acids together with Finnish companies Arla Foods, Paulig and Wipak. The new renewable plastic material would have the same features of a traditional plastic film and fulfill the requirements of the food industry, while being recyclable.
What about oats?
Fazer, globally known especially from their confectionary and chocolate, is the bakery industry leader in Finland. Besides celebrating its 130 anniversary this year, Fazer Bakery recently came out with a never-seen-before packaging innovation, a bread bag made from oat hulls, which are derived as a side stream of Fazer’s own oat milling process. Of the material, 25% is oat hulls and the package can be recycled as cardboard. The innovation is unique even internationally and required years of work.
“The new bread bag combines the elements of Fazer’s strategy responsibility, innovation and the culture of experimentation. The project was part of Fazer’s sustainable packaging program, which includes reducing the amount of used packaging material, improving the recyclability of packaging, and developing entirely new types of ecological packaging solutions, of which this bread bag made of oat hulls is one example. This is circular economy at its best”, says Piia Soininen-Tengvall, packaging development director at Fazer Group.
New bio- and waste-based material innovations are changing the packaging industry. Wood has proven to offer worthy solutions to a number of global challenges, such as packaging waste, and it is increasingly used in new added value products. Forest-rich Finland has a number of ways to help tackle the global challenges with innovations based on wood, also known as green gold.
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