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The future of packaging is now… and that future is green

Across the packaging industry, businesses are striving for a more sustainable future by developing products that has less impact on the environment. One company pioneering this change, and leading from the front, is Stora Enso.

Across the world, companies of all disciplines are waking up to the reality that today you simply have to design and produce products with the environment in mind.

In the world of paper, this was realised many decades ago and it has long been the case that the products produced are sustainable. More than that, the companies that produce paper and paperboards place care for the environment in their management and manufacturing practices too – everything from raw materials to energy used, from clean water and lessening emissions to air, from carbon balancing to logistics.

Stora Enso has been leading from the front in this field and is well known for its philosophy of sustainability and innovation, which has given birth to some interesting new products.

The company undertakes continual research and development to create ever more environmentally friendly products that really answer the needs of today’s brands and consumers. Here, we highlight just a few of these innovations, where the company has worked with partners to bring new solutions to a market that looks to a sustainable future.

Many firsts

Just recently, Stora Enso received the Nordic Swan Ecolabel approval for its fully renewable brown liquid packaging board. The ecolabel, which is widely used in the Nordic countries, gives customers an opportunity to communicate that their packaging is ecological and sustainably produced.

Customers benefit from the ecolabel since it provides third party verified proof for superior environmental performance throughout the lifecycle of the product, and the label is widely recognised as a sign of sustainability.

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel for liquid packaging promotes the use of renewable materials which help combat global warming, and advocates for the circular economy by ensuring packaging can be recycled in existing recycling systems. Other key requirements include sustainably produced and certified raw materials and approved chemicals.

Traditionally the Nordic Swan Ecolabel has covered the environmental performance of a product, and it is now being introduced for the first time for packaging of liquid food. Tetra Pak, which provides liquid packaging globally, is the first to qualify its liquid cartons for the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. According to Tetra Pak, the ecolabel will help consumers make eco friendly choices when shopping for food.

The board approved according to the Nordic Swan criteria is Natura Life by Stora Enso with a plant based barrier coating. Stora Enso also produces a Nordic Swan qualified, fully renewable board for paper cups, Cupforma Natura PE Green by Stora Enso.

Saving waste

During January 2020, Stora Enso worked with Finnish dairy company Valio to distribute 10,000 wood fibre based biocomposite lids, to encourage consumers to reduce their food waste. The reusable lids also pilot a new biocomposite food package application.

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets thrown away or wasted every year. This wastes resources and produces unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming. The packaging – and the lid – play an important role in reducing food loss and waste by protecting the food items during transportation and storage. 

‘With this pilot project, we want to encourage people to take small concrete actions to prevent food waste. The lid helps to cover any leftover crème fraiche and quark in the cups, and this way to prevent food waste,’ said Jussi-Pekka Lumme, packaging development manager at Valio.

The co-operation intends to trial how a biocomposite works when combined with a traditional food package. The reusable lids are made of durable and hygienic DuraSense by Stora Enso bio-composite material, a blend of wood fibres and polymers. DuraSense helps to replace plastics in a wide variety of products.

It has a lower carbon footprint, which makes it a climate friendly alternative to fully fossil based plastics. 

‘Valio was the first in the world to start using fully plant based one litre milk cartons in 2015. In 2018, we converted all of our 250 million gable top milk, yoghurt, cream, and sour milk packages to fully plant based ones. These packages are part of broader work where Valio aims for carbon neutral milk, ie resetting milk’s carbon footprint in 2035. We continue to explore new package innovation possibilities that we could try out and implement,’ added says Jussi-Pekka.

‘We at Stora Enso see a strong demand for climate friendly food packaging, where strong brands searching for eco friendly solutions are one of the driving forces. Together with our customers and brand owners we are actively developing new innovative solutions to support food chains to respond to consumer demands for sustainable choices,’ said Hannu Kasurinen, head of Packaging Materials at Stora Enso. 

DuraSense is another step on Stora Enso’s journey to help customers to gradually replace fossil based packaging materials with renewable solutions. With the blend of wood fibres and polymers, it is possible to reduce the consumption of plastic materials by up to 50% and, thus, reduce the carbon footprint of a product and decrease the dependency on limited fossil resources.

The last straw

Stora Enso and Sulapac have launched a renewable and biodegradable straw to combat the global problem of plastic waste.

The first customers include Finnair’s lounges in Helsinki, replacing their plastic and paper straws, food delivery platform Wolt, the alcoholic beverage brand company Altia, Hotel St George, and vegan café Kippo, amongst others. The first customers represent different business sectors but have one common interest: to be at the forefront of sustainability. For end consumers, the straws will be available via, an online store specialising in compostable tableware and packaging, and online retailer

‘There is clearly a large demand for our product, which both fulfils the sustainability criteria and has superior usability. Like all Sulapac materials, the straw is 100% microplastic free. It is designed to mimic nature; if the straw accidentally ends up in the ocean, it behaves like a birch leaf and does not harm the ecosystem,’ said Sulapac CEO Suvi Haimi. 

The straws are based on Sulapac’s patent pending material innovation. The main components are renewable materials such as wood and plant based binders. Sulapac defines the material as microplastic free, meaning that it is designed to be fully biodegradable in different environments. The straw complies with existing waste systems and is designed to be recycled via industrial composting.

‘Billions of plastic straws are produced and used every week, creating harmful waste that often ends up in the sea. This renewable and biodegradable material can replace fossil based materials and help combat plastic waste. Our cooperation with Sulapac allows us to explore new types of innovative and scalable materials and widen our offering of renewable solutions,’ said Marcus Dehlin, head of Business Alliances,

Stora Enso.

First European recyclability guidelines for optimal packaging design

The use of paper for packaging purposes is growing every year, due to its excellent environmental performance but also to the increasing demand related to e-commerce and delivery services. There is a strong expectation from consumers, brands and retailers to have recyclable packaging material. A packaging recycling rate of 85% is already achieved today and the paper value chain continues to improve.

In order to achieve even higher recycling targets while expanding the functionality of paper based packaging, it is important to start from the design phase, considering both the intended purpose as well as the end of life. The recyclability guidelines – developed by CEPI, CITPA, ACE and FEFCO – give concrete guidance for designers to make sure functionality goes hand in hand with recyclability.

‘Retailers and brand owners exploring new fibre based solutions want to see their packaging back in the loop after use. With these guidelines the paper and board value chain gives the answer what this means and requires in practice.

‘In this spirit, CEPI co-launched the new alliance 4evergreen, together with more than 30 companies on 20 November. The aim of the alliance is to boost the contribution of fibre based packaging in a circular and sustainable economy that minimises climate and environmental impact,’ said Ulrich Leberle, raw materials director at CEPI.

In this context, the new European guidelines intend to become the go to document to learn more about the implications of certain converting steps on the recyclability of used paper based packaging. The signatories of the document hope they act as a source of inspiration for innovation and the introduction of new techniques. They are convinced that a widespread awareness among the value chain (including retailers and brand owners) can truly improve the recyclability of products. They are also convinced the guidelines will help meet national protocols and requirements and further close the circularity of our industry.

You can download a copy of the guidelines at New European carton industry’s carbon footprint

The Carbon Footprint of Carton Packaging 2019 study, carried out by the Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) in partnership with Pro Carton, the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard Manufacturers, has reported that 326 kg CO2e is emitted per tonne of converted cartons manufactured by the carton packaging industry in Europe.

RISE used a carbon footprint methodology that considers all emissions and removals associated with forest based products, including aspects unique to the forest industry’s value chain. The research covers the cradle to grave carbon impact, taking account of both fossil GHG emissions arising from non-renewable sources, such as oil, coal and biogenic GHG emissions and those from renewable sources, such as plants and trees, and removals and emissions from direct land use change.

This study’s methodology is significantly different and broader than any previously used and is in line with the latest CEPI and CITPA guidelines. The new figure cannot, therefore, be directly compared to previous studies. However, a comparison was undertaken using the old methodology which showed that on a like-for-like basis the industry had improved its carbon footprint by approximately 9% since the last report in 2015. 

Tony Hitchin, general manager of Pro Carton, said: ‘The new methodology presented in this report is comprehensive because it fully recognises the carbon impacts of carton packaging from forest to converted cartons. It is part of a wider environmental data report and this information will be made available to LCA experts for their own analysis. Cartons are one of the most eco friendly forms of packaging and we are delighted that the new carbon footprint figure further endorses that.

‘Cartonboard is a renewable raw material capable of storing carbon and recycling delays the CO2 from returning to the atmosphere.  According to the European GHG inventory, forests of the EU-28 are a net carbon sink, with net CO2 removals by forests having increased by more than 19% between 1990 and 2014.’

Nordic Swan Ecolabel -

Altia Group -

Hotel St George, Helsinki -

Kippo, vegan cafe, Helsinki -

CEPI (Confederation of European Paper Industries) -

Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) -

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