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On the way to a zero waste future

We spoke with Annika Sundell, executive vice president – Innovation at Walki, and she explained how the latest  developments in packaging, as well as intelligent products and sustainable concepts, are helping consumer packaging to a zero waste future...

Making packaging solutions ever more sustainable through new developments – this is the goal being pursued by Walki, one of the world's leading manufacturers in this field. By 2030, the company aims to offer all its products to be renewable, recyclable or compostable. On the way to achieving this goal the company, headquartered in Espoo, Finland, is producing a continuous range of innovations. These are used in food packaging such as frozen foods, fresh or confectionery products, non food articles such as detergents, hygiene products, electronics and tobacco products, and also in luxury articles such as perfumes or spirits.

Sustainability and innovation are two key issues. How is this reflected in Walki's product developments?

'As we see it, sustainability and innovation are closely linked. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of packaging on the environment. Many people now expect industry, retail and the catering trade to offer sustainable solutions and they are consciously opting in favour of such products. We want to support our customers in this. This is why we develop intelligent packaging concepts that facilitate product handling and reduce packaging and food waste, while at the same time conducting ongoing research into increasingly sustainable materials'.

One sustainability goal is to achieve a zero waste future. How do you intend to go about doing this?

'We have worked out a sustainability platform we have named Zero Waste Future. The aim of the platform is to develop and provide solutions that help our customers to define the best packaging solutions for their specific product. Our target is to minimise waste in a holistic way, both food and packaging waste. By using our solutions we want to contribute to keep the materials in a circular loop, either to be recycled or by facilitating the composting of biowaste. Our material or packaging qualities are mainly based on cardboard and paper as their basic material, ie plant based, renewable and recyclable resources. In addition, we are gradually replacing conventional petroleum based barriers with sustainable alternatives. Our in-house pilot plant enables us to test new barrier concepts efficiently. As a result, we can provide customers with test materials that are not yet available on the market. Today, 80% of our products are already made of renewable or recycled raw materials. In the case of certain applications such as the frozen food sector the proportion is as high as 95%. Our goal is to increase this percentage to 100% for all qualities by 2030'.

What specific types of sustainable coatings does Walki offer? Which applications in consumer packaging are they suitable for?

'The qualities of the Walki-Green-PE and Walki-Wood ranges are particularly suitable for frozen and fresh products. Both use plant based coatings whose properties and barrier values are identical to those of petroleum based LDPE. They offer a strong water vapour barrier as well as impermeability to grease, and they can be processed in exactly the same way. The barrier in Walki-Wood is based on tall oil, which is a natural by-product of pulp production and would otherwise be used below value. Our long term goal is to use certified circular polymers for barriers in addition to these plant sources'.

What is special about certified circular polymers?

'Certified circular polymers enable us to close the recycling cycle. They are coating materials obtained in an innovative chemical recycling process from mixed plastic household waste that would otherwise be incinerated or landfilled. In this way we want to ensure that otherwise difficult to recycle packaging is reused in a meaningful way. Certified circular polymers are identical in quality to the original raw material and can therefore be used for the same end applications such as frozen and fresh food packaging, ‘to go’ cups for hot and cold drinks or takeaway trays for fatty foods. The concept is close to market maturity and the first packaging will be supplied to customers this year. We expect to be able to offer the same qualities on an industrial scale from 2020 onwards'.

Sustainable food service materials are of particular interest to the growing catering sector. What other products does Walki offer in this area?

'In addition to the aforementioned plant based Walki-Green-PE and circular polymers, we offer various sustainable coatings that are particularly suitable for ‘to go’ or takeaway packaging and cups for hot or cold beverages. In the case of Walki-Bio, for example, about 75% of the coating consists of PLA (poly lactic acid) so it is industrially compostable. Walki-BioPBS – with a maize based coating – is also very good for industrial composting. This quality has excellent potential for degrading in house compost, which we are currently developing further. It is also suitable for the normal recycling process. It is very important to us for our laminates to either be compostable or effectively recyclable. For this reason, we have developed the so called Earth Coating, especially for an optimised recycling process. This coating material can be separated very cleanly from the paper on which it is applied. The potential for impurities is significantly reduced, thus enabling an optimised recycling process'.

The acquisition of Plastiroll, a Finnish manufacturer of sustainable packaging materials, opens up new opportunities for Walki in terms of dispersion technology. To what extent will this impact on the portfolio?

'The acquisition of Plastiroll is another milestone for Walki in terms of sustainability. The company is one of the pioneers and leading European manufacturers of compostable bags and film with more than 20 years of experience. It has capacities for extrusion and dispersion coating as well as blown film production and bag making. With its portfolio under the well known Bioska and Hauska brands, Plastiroll is an ideal match for us and our range and a useful addition to it. We will be in additional to the bag and film products focusing in particular on dispersion technology, which offers great potential – especially in terms of food service applications'.

‘Our target is to minimise waste in a holistic way… we want to contribute to keep the materials in a circular loop, either to be recycled or by facilitating the composting of biowaste. Our material or packaging qualities are mainly based on card-board and paper as their basic material, ie plant based, renewable and recyclable resources.’

Annika Sundell, executive vice president – Innovation at Walki.

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