Petra Einarsson, the CEO and President at the Swedish company BillerudKorsnäs, may have developed a measure to end single-use plastics. This is a desperately needed step into the right direction, and might seem simpler than anticipated. The proposed material to end single-use plastic is paper. Admittedly, the use of this basic material, invented in Ancient China, is a lot less exciting than a revolutionary new material, conceived somewhere in a lab. But paper might just be the material that is needed to gradually phase out fossil-fuel based packaging solutions.
To Einarsson, this is a truly fascinating development and she states that she “could not imagine working in a more exciting industry”. Recognising that our world is in dire needs of alternatives to wasteful, non-sustainable and polluting packaging materials, the challenges faced in the packaging industry excite her. As not only the environment urges for sustainable solutions but also consumers. According to the 2015 Nielsen report, as well as independent studies conducted by BillerudKorsnäs, 66% of consumers claim that they would be willing to pay more for sustainable brands. “Today’s consumers prefer brands in responsible packaging” affirmed Petra. No matter the article, ranging from cosmetics to snacks to spirits, the studies have proven that market participants are ready and waiting for sustainable alternatives.
As economic and ecological data starts to align, resulting that “this generation is more concerned about sustainability than past generations”, this will inevitably lead to brands across almost every industry having to re-evaluate their packaging standards. The combination and alignment of these factors leads Einarsson to believe that this is the beginning of a packaging revolution and not just the waves made by a fad. However, one should acknowledge that change is never easy and getting industry-wide acceptance will be tied closely to creating good experiences, for brands and consumers alike.
The Swedish company offers paper and cardboard solutions, while not being limited to these materials. One of their latest innovations is a product called the D-Sack. This is a dissolvable bag for cement and other construction materials that can simply be added into the mixer. This eliminates any additional waste and creates a protection for the workers, not being exposed to potentially dangerous cement-dust clouds any longer. Eliminating this part of the construction waste results in 30% lower climate impact than conventional cement and building materials packaging.
Petra admits that the responsibility for more sustainable future in terms of packaging doesn’t solely lie on the consumers but also on the manufacturers. Stating that BillerudKorsnäs believes that there is a need for enhancing recyclability and claiming that they “believe change begins at the top of the value chain, and it starts with forests”, as this is the main source for their packaging solutions. Therefore, BillerudKorsnäs plants three trees for every one they harvest. While this all sounds amazing, they admit that it could not be done on their own and Petra emphasises that collaboration plays a major role in their achievements as it is critical to partner with like-minded companies and non-profits, to further advance the concepts of sustainability.
Petra Einarsson goes on to state that “we cannot tackle global sustainability challenges alone. However, when we team up with others we can identify new and innovative solutions for these challenges and simultaneously achieve greater insights into the demands the market makes on us. This approach also allows us to learn from one another, to spread knowledge, and to generate a broader positive impact on society and our environment.”
Thus, BillerudKorsnäs is collaborating with a multitude of partners, which has led to some major developments. One of which is the Paper Bottle. This is exactly what it sounds like. It is the world’s first fully recyclable and biodegradable paper bottle, targeted to be used for the conveyance of carbonated beverages. Another innovation driven by BillerudKorsnäs is the world’s first paper battery, a project on which the Swedish company is collaborating on with a team of researchers at Uppsala University. The ultimate goal of this is not solely restricted to more eco-friendly batteries but to enable a large-scale production and the future use of paper batteries for applications such as smart packaging. These could provide increased securities in the packaging sector in the form of temperature indicators as well as tracking and verification measures to fight counterfeits.
In conclusion, paper might not seem as an exciting or innovative material approach to end the unbearable reliance of our societies on single-use plastics, but it might just be the most viable and recyclable material we have to date. When we keep pushing for innovation in the pursuit of a truly sustainable packaging solution, paper might just be the route to embark on. If we wish to leave our planet somewhat intact for future generations, changes must be realised.