Ohto Nuottamo - The main reason is that during the 1970s and 1980s, the paper industry in general, and the biggest companies in particular, have been attacked by NGOs for their impact on the environment. This coincided with the emergence of new analytical equipment that allowed measuring small amounts of dioxin in the products. As a consequence of these pressures, the paper industry evolved its practices and became very good in fields such as traceability and effluent control. We invested a lot of money to control or emissions in water or in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the reduction of CO2 emissions is now a key indicator of performance. As far as Stora Enso is concerned, 80% of the energy we currently use in our manufacturing process is bio-sourced and our aim is to reach 100%.
Compared to other industries, such as the cement industry for instance, we have made tremendous progress in the way to sustainability. Nevertheless, the situation in the paper industry is not all perfect and bad land use practices remain in some countries such as Indonesia or Brazil. It is the common responsibility of the whole industry to promote environmentally friendly practices at a global scale, in particular regarding the impacts on the forest and on water and air quality. In Europe, the paper industry now has a positive impact on forests, we grow more trees than we use. Regarding the effluents in water and in the air, we have considerably decreased them. Our impact is not inexistent but very limited and local.
Premium Beauty News - But today, NGOs have shifted their pressure on the plastic industry.
Ohto Nuottamo - All the industries that have difficulties to properly manage the origin (the cradle) and the end of life (the grave) of their goods have and will have increasing difficulties with NGOs. Beyond NGOs, brand owners are increasingly sensitive to environmental issues because they know that everything is visible now and that in case of problem they will be in the front line of public pressure.
Premium Beauty News - Packaging in general suffers from a bad perception.
Ohto Nuottamo - Unfortunately, packaging waste is on top of the consumers’ mind. The average impact of a product’s packaging in carbon emissions is less than 10%, but the most visible problem with packaging is waste. Nobody feels good about the tremendous quantity of garbage that developed societies produce every year. Simultaneously, people are increasingly willing to cooperate in waste management schemes. They consider that waste has some value and that this value should not be discarded. This belief participates in the feeling that we need to create a circular economy instead of the linear economy we have been used to.
The European packaging waste law that sets recycling and reuse targets for each material correspond to this new circular economy. In these fields, carton and paper can boast very high scores compared to fossil polymers.
Premium Beauty News - Each industrial sector claims its materials to be more sustainable than the others. PET for instance is a plastic polymer with good recyclability scores. How to make sense out of all these claims?
Ohto Nuottamo - I would add that plastics in general are very competitive in terms of weight reduction. Actually, conducting full life cycling analyses is the only way to have a clear view of the environmental impact of a product and to compare it with another.
However, we can broadly review the benefits and costs of different materials used for packaging:
- glass has a positive image, it is recyclable but it is a heavy product and it requires lot of energy to be recycled,
- metals can be quite easily sorted, reused and recycled,
- plastics have a bad image, not all of them can be recycled and they correspond to the typical linear economy,
- bio-plastics on the contrary correspond to a circular economy, but only a small proportion of plastics are plant-based, experts say that 1.5% could be a reasonable target by 2020. And there is also the problem of the competition in land use with food production.
- paper is both renewable and recyclable. Furthermore, trees can grow - and usually grow - in areas that are of low agricultural interest, and forests provide a large variety of environmental services. For instance growing the surface of forests has a big impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The extra growth of all the trees we are no longer cutting in Europe can absorb a large part of our new CO2 emissions.
I’m truly convinced that the use of carton and paper as packaging materials should and could be increased in many industries. The paper industry in Europe has achieved such tremendous environmental results that it is now intrinsically sustainable. Unfortunately, it does not always succeed in communicating on this aspect.
Premium Beauty News - Everything in packaging cannot come from trees!
Ohto Nuottamo - Not everything of course, but much more than currently does. Actually, tree fibres have a structure that is close from a polymer structure. Our vision is that, in the future, thanks to this structure, tree-sourced polymers could replace many oiled-sourced polymers. For instance, we think that in the future, 100% of food packaging can be tree-based.
In order to stimulate research and development regarding a wider use of carton-based packaging we are launching a new edition of our Recreate Packaging competition this year. We are expecting more than 70 universities to participate. Our aim is to show what it is possible to do with carton and paper and to help converters in their way to innovation.
We know that innovation requires cooperation between suppliers and customers, for instance to develop new methods and new machines. However, our core business is not to develop new packaging, our core business is to manage forests and to produce paper and carton.
Premium Beauty News - According to you, what are the main prospects for carton-based packaging?
Ohto Nuottamo - There are many possible avenues. One of them could be to produce packaging materials directly from cellulose, by skipping the paper step. What we are doing now is to cut trees into pieces, to add 99% water to these pieces and then to use huge machines to remove the water. The whole process requires tremendous amounts of water and a lot of energy. I’m convinced that partnerships between us and the chemical industry will be a key factor of success in the development of innovative sustainable processes and materials. Pulping will become a key industry in the future.