Is the World Ready for the Paper Packaging Solutions from BillerudKorsnäs?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/12/2018 | 4 Minute Read

Paper might just be the end to single-use plastics.

Okay, we’ll admit that’s not nearly as exciting as some revolutionary new material developed in a lab, but it could be the truth. What if something we use daily, something which dates back to Ancient China, something made from wood pulp can challenge our reliance on plastics which will likely end up in landfills or the ocean?

Petra Einarsson believes in this wholeheartedly. At the Swedish company BillerudKorsnäs, where she is President and CEO, they work with paper to hopefully phase out fossil-fuel based packaging in favor of something more sustainable.

“It's a truly fascinating development,” she said, “and I could not imagine working in a more exciting industry.”

Our world desperately needs alternatives to wasteful, non-sustainable materials (we won’t scare you with all the facts, but if you’re curious go here some sobering information). But it’s not merely a duty to the environment—it’s also what consumers want. In a 2015 Nielsen report, 66% of consumers said they would pay more for sustainable brands.

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“Today’s consumers prefer brands in responsible packaging,” confirmed Petra. BillerudKorsnäs conducted their own study a year ago, researching consumers in 16 cities including Paris, London, Mubi, Jakarta, New York, and Tokyo. Whether it’s carbonated drinks, cosmetics, fine chocolates, or spirits, the results proved buyers are ready for a change.

“This generation is more concerned about sustainability than past generations,” she said. “These sentiments will lead to mass-consumption industries, like carbonated-beverage bottlers, and more sophisticated industries, like smart packaging, to reevaluate their packaging standards. The combination of these factors leads BillerudKorsnäs to reasonably believe this is the beginning of a movement, not the spike of a trend.”

But change isn’t always easy. In those cases, Petra explained the key to creating something new is all about the experience.

“The brand experience, unboxing experience, storytelling, and making the consumer sure of their choice of product,” she said. “Packaging is a key touchpoint for any brand, and the importance increases with globalization, e-commerce, and a growing middle class. We are very much aware of these trends and are actively creating packaging that both the customer and the planet love.”

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BillerudKorsnäs offers paper and board solutions, but their work provides innovation beyond that. Take, for example, their latest development: D-Sack. This dissolvable sack for cement and other construction materials is eco-friendly and never actually has to get opened. Employees toss the bag and its contents into the mixer, eliminating clouds of unhealthy dust which traditional bags produce. Also, the CO2 absorbed during tree growth gets incorporated into the paper, and in turn right into the building—resulting in 30% lower climate impact than the conventional cement sacks.

It’s this desire to challenge convention which drives the team to try and improve all aspects of packaging, from protecting goods to enhancing recyclability. Petra admits that the responsibility for a more sustainable future can’t solely be on the consumer, but also with manufacturers, which is where their product packaging solutions come in.

“We believe change begins at the top of the value chain, and it starts in the forest,” she explained. “It’s important to consider the source. Forests play a vital role in combating climate change. Research indicates that active forestry with good growth produces the best climate benefit—in combination with replacing fossil and resource-intensive raw materials with a renewable wood raw material. That’s why we work closely with the communities neighboring our forests, and for every tree harvested we plant three new trees.”

And while their work is admirable, they don’t do it alone. Collaboration plays a vital role in their work, so it’s critical to partner with other like-minded companies, groups, and organizations.

“We cannot tackle global sustainability challenges alone,” Petra said. “However, when we team up with others we can identify new and innovative solutions to these challenges and simultaneously achieve greater insight 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.”

Recently, they partnered with the Tara Expeditions Foundation, a French research organization, to learn more about how packaging impacts the ocean. Microplastics turned out to be one of the worst offenders, polluting waterways and possibly even entering the food chain. Recognizing this problem opens up the opportunity for developing new packaging to protect the planet.

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Their collaboration has also led to some new and exciting developments. One is the Paper Bottle, the world’s first fully recyclable and biodegradable paper bottle for carbonated beverages. The other is a paper battery, something BillerudKorsnäs is working on with researchers at Uppsala University.

“The researchers have taken pure cellulose from algae and developed it to work with the same type of fiber that BillerudKorsnäs uses to manufacture packaging material,” Petra explained. It’s a massive development which means more than just inexpensive and eco-friendly batteries, too. “The long-term goal is to enable large-scale production and the future use of paper batteries for applications such as smart packaging, to provide increased security, temperature indicators, as well as tracking packaging in transit and inventory,” she added.

No, paper might not initially appear to be an exciting or innovative approach to end the reliance on single-use plastics, but looks aren’t always what they seem. BillerudKorsnäs is proving that these recyclable, sustainable solutions can exist—it’s just a matter of manufacturers prioritizing what consumers want and what our world needs.

“We believe innovation in the pursuit of genuinely sustainable packaging is worth investing in,” Petra emphasized. “Our future depends on it.”

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