Packaging suppliers rethink raw materials and enhance traceability amid climate change fears
03 Mar 2023 --- Climate change continues to threaten the planet’s ecosystem, requiring packaging companies to take bold steps and adjust their portfolios to solutions beyond fossil-based applications.
PackagingInsights speaks to UPM Raflatac and Innova Market Insights about the impact of climate change on packaging producers.
“Globally, brands are making an effort to tackle climate change by adding reduced carbon emission claims to packaging and emphasizing the issue with product designs and scannable QR codes for improved consumer information,” shares Akhil Eashwar Aiyar, projects leader at Innova Market Insights.
Label specialist UPM Raflatac is increasing its use of certified fibers and the traceability of its bio-based materials, fostering the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing innovative products and services that help its customers take positive climate action.
“One of our aims has been to reduce or replace virgin fossil sources of carbon that add burden to the carbon cycle by applying the principles of reduce, recycle, renew and reuse through responsible sourcing, sustainable operations and logistics all the way to innovative products and services,” Robert Taylor, director of sustainability at UPM Raflatac, tells PackagingInsights.
Low-carbon bio-based solutions
UPM Raflatac’s RAFNXT+ is the “world’s first” label material to be verified by the Carbon Trust to help mitigate climate change. “A high share of our products use certified materials from forests that are managed as carbon sinks – and this number will keep rising in the future,” says Taylor.
Furthermore, the environmental footprint of packaging is mainly defined by choice of raw materials.
“That’s why we use an approach focused on reducing raw materials or using recycled content to lower environmental impact and reduce the strain on natural resources,” he continues.
“We also offer the choice to switch from fossil raw materials to lower carbon bio-based solutions. However, we must also remember the recyclability of packaging at end of life and have developed solutions that enable recyclability and reuse.”
Collaboration is key
Meanwhile, much work is needed to join up packaging creation, recycling and reproduction if the packaging industry is going to succeed in helping to promote a more environmentally sustainable future beyond fossils.
“The time for incremental improvements has passed and the industry must take bold steps to drive effective climate initiatives,” asserts Taylor.
“Partnerships play a key role here, as it is only through collaboration with value chain partners that the highest possible positive impact on climate and people can be reached.”
In recent developments, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) and Reloop published a study by Eunomia Research and Consulting which shows that applying mixed waste sorting (MWS) systems before thermal treatment and landfilling can contribute to the EU’s climate objectives and boost plastic and municipal waste recycling targets.
“MWS is using technology to extract valuable materials from the mixed (residual) waste stream prior to incineration or landfilling. These include materials not currently targeted by separate collection, such as non-packaging plastics, which are not covered by extended producer responsibility schemes, but also materials which should be collected separately but may erroneously be delivered with residual waste,” Janek Vähk, ZWE’s climate, energy and air pollution programme coordinator, told PackagingInsights.
Supply chain transparency
Taylor continues that when it comes to environmental sustainability, as a company committed to labeling for a smarter future beyond fossils, UPM Raflatac wants to make “every bit of raw material count.”
“We carefully select and engage with suppliers who act responsibly and help them improve their performance and business,” he says.
Taylor furthermore explains that the company has transparent supplier requirements in place and it develops collaboration with its suppliers through joint development plans and supplier audits.
“This [system] provides transparency on the actions it is taking to provide solutions for brands and designers as they aim for more [environmentally] sustainable packaging,” he asserts.
UPM Biofore initiative
Over the past ten years, UPM Raflatac’s Biofore strategy has driven its transformation to move beyond fossils. “Through labeling innovations that replace fossils with biomaterials and adjusting our operating model to focus on renewable and sustainable solutions, we are allowing our customers and consumers to make more sustainable choices,” explains Taylor.
“At present, we have brought to the market a wide range of labeling solutions that follow the principles of reduce, recycle, renew and reuse.”
“The solutions have been proving popular with printers and converters, as they help brands meet virgin-material reduction targets, reducing the pressure on using such feedstocks and combating climate change,” he adds.
Some of UPM Raflatac’s innovations include Direct Thermal linerless labels originating from FSC-certified sources. They use around 40% less paper than comparable pressure-sensitive label materials and Forest Film, a 100% renewable wood-based film material.
Industry “wake up call”
Last year, ZWE and Eunomia released a report that estimated a 67% chance of global warming staying within 1.5-degrees celsius of pre-industrial levels if cumulative global GHG emissions stay below 400 gross tonnage CO2 e.
“What the report says very clearly is that current levels of resource use, even when pushing circularity and decarbonization to the extreme, are incompatible with the climate agenda,” Joan Marc Simon, executive director at ZWE, told PackagingInsights.
“This report is a wake-up call for the packaging industry and governments about the fact that current roadmaps and policies are incompatible with the climate agenda. Circularity and decarbonization are not enough. In other words: ramping up recycling will not do it and a radical redesign of policies and product distribution is needed.”
By Natalie Schwertheim
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.