“Sustainability is not as black and white as one might think it is out of hand. You need to constantly challenge yourself to be able to stay critical and objective in your thinking.”
In her new role at Kemira, Mari Ojanen is managing and coordinating short- and long-term activities supporting Kemira’s sustainability goals and related innovation development. Before, she was a research scientist in Kemira R&D, focusing on developing surface treatment applications, and during the most recent years, recyclable barrier coatings.
The pressure to reduce and replace plastics in packaging has brought fiber-based packaging materials into the limelight, and even more so, put focus on the needed new barrier solutions to enable the fiber-based materials’ resistance against e.g. grease, oil, and moisture. Mari says that the regulatory actions and ongoing discussion around packaging and waste are good, concrete examples of the complicated sustainability considerations.
It is not just about the new product we develop, but about meeting the needs of the whole packaging value chain, all the way to the end-of-life of the packaging.
“You need to consider the functionality and the safety of the packaging for the intended end-use but also the sustainability of the production process, for example, water, energy, and raw material usage. How do you make the comparisons between different materials, how much weight do you put on the use of renewable raw materials, how do you define recyclability…”, she points out.
“For example, in barrier coatings, it’s not just about the new product we develop or even about our customer, the board producer who uses it in their production, but about meeting the needs of the whole packaging value chain, all the way to the end-of-life of the packaging.”
Recyclable packaging requires repulpable barrier coatings
Consumers and brand owners are looking for recyclable packaging options, but for the fiber-based packaging material producers, repulpability is the key term. In September 2021, Mari participated in the PTS Coating Symposium discussing functional coatings for fiber-based packaging and shared some fresh research data on the repulpability of dispersion barrier coated boards and on the usability of the repulped material in the board making process.
“The introduction of dispersion barrier coatings at a board machine will impact the end-to-end process when coated board is repulped and reused. You need to pay attention and make changes also to other applications to ensure machine runnability, production efficiency, and wastewater quality with barrier coated broke,” Mari explains.
She discusses the topic further in our webinar “How barrier coated boards repulp”, where we share insights to efficient circulation and reuse of barrier coated materials in the board making process. In addition to comparing the repulpability of different dispersion barrier coatings, including Kemira’s FennoGuard™, she explains how to manage the disintegrated coating particles during the papermaking process. You can register to view the webinar here.
“The study shows that we can capture up to 98% of the particles, attaching them back to the fibers and removing any residuals from the wastewater before it is discharged. This is where chemistry and the holistic understanding of the different phases in the papermaking process play an important role. We are committed to developing barrier solutions that are recyclable and repulpable, but we also support the papermakers to overcome any challenges related to the use of the new solutions.”
Customer at the core
The most rewarding moments during Mari’s Kemira career are related to being part of a successful commercialization of a new product. She says it’s like watching your child start school: you need to let go and trust that they manage on their own, helping and supporting only if needed.
“The justification for the research that we do comes at the end of the day from our customers. We typically involve our customers closely in the R&D projects, which makes the work truly meaningful,” she says but highlights that this doesn’t mean that the projects are always a direct answer to a customer’s question.
Most of the time, Kemira R&D is working on something that the industry does not even know to ask from us yet.
“It’s more about understanding our customers’ pain points and picking up the upcoming trends in the industry, realizing what is around the corner. Most of the time, Kemira R&D is working on something that the industry does not even know to ask from us yet.”
Mari has been with Kemira since 2007, excluding the around two years at other duties with machinery technologies for the pulp and paper industry. She says that her return to work for Kemira in 2018 shows her passion toward the chemical industry but is also a testament to the good spirits and wide competencies of true experts of the R&D center in Espoo, Finland.
“I’m not a chemist myself but focused on helping our customers to achieve the most with our chemicals in their processes and end products. In my new role, I get to work with interesting and highly important sustainability topics, working together with our researchers to find solutions to topical challenges.”
“Just the other day I was talking with some of my friends who were growing impatient with the lack of meaning in their jobs. I realized that I don’t share the feeling at all. I really don’t need to unwind from work – rather I come to work to unwind from the busy family life,” she laughs.