A golden opportunity for board producers
There wasn’t a single presentation in the Prima 2019 conference that didn’t mention sustainability, e-commerce, the plastics challenge and other megatrends that have a direct impact on the paper and board industry. For us in the fiber-based value chain, these present great opportunities.
The PRIMA attendees weren’t out to declare a war on plastics but rather focusing on the fact that fiber-based products, which are renewable and recyclable, can provide answers to the current packaging challenges. Politicians also have a momentum to drive climate-related legislation further, building on the SUP (single-use plastics) directive, for example. The change can be surprisingly fast once it sets in motion – just consider how quickly the regulation to phase out lightweight plastic bags has progressed, for example.
Being recyclable is not enough – being recycled should be the goal
Consumer behavior and buying trends in packaging gave rise to a lot of discussion and debate. The brand owners and the pulp, paper, and board producers find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Consumers want better brand experiences but with less environmental impact. There’s also rising activist scrutiny on single-use plastic packaging but, on the other hand, also on sourcing wood fibers for the paper industry.
Attention should equally be paid to the end-of-life of a package; being recyclable is not enough – being recycled should be the goal. When asked, consumers are in favor of fiber-based packaging solutions, but when it comes to actual behaviors, convenience and cost often overrule other factors.
With false beliefs on packaging materials and confusion around related terms (bio-based, biodegradable, compostable, renewable, recyclable…), many speakers called for education and transparency around the unique features of the fiber-based materials, circular economy, and the sustainability of the paper industry. After all, 26% of consumers in the US think that recycling is more confusing than assembling IKEA furniture (Grocery Manufacturers Association). In Europe, the public opinion is that the forests are shrinking when in fact they have been growing by over 1,500 football pitches every day (Love Paper).
26% of consumers in the US think that recycling is more confusing than assembling IKEA furniture.
Mind the valuation gap
One remark that stood out was the big valuation gap there is between the plastic and paper industries. According to McKinsey, many of the consumer packaging trends, such as increased price-awareness and the need for convenience and personalization, continue to favor plastics – apart from sustainability. That remark gave some food for thought for the entire value chain around fiber-based packaging.
Sustainability is a powerful catalyst for innovation in packaging
Bio-based barriers, re-pulpable coatings, mono-material packaging… The demand for novel, 100 % renewable and 100% recyclable packaging solutions was voiced by the brand owners, who in turn are driven by customer expectations. In fact, there’s an unprecedented surge of innovation ongoing in the industry. Most of the current paper and board machines will in their lifetime produce materials that have not yet been invented. Out-of-the (packaging) box thinking is also emerging. The familiar phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” could use a fourth word: rethink. How about going to a supermarket with your own reusable containers, for example?
Cooperation along the value chain is a must
Does the paper and packaging industry have what it takes to take advantage of the current situation? According to the participants of PRIMA, the answer is yes – if the entire value chain cooperates. Alongside sustainability, collaboration was one of the most discussed topics of the conference.
There was a clear consensus that to come up with new solutions quickly enough, all stakeholders need to collaborate: the paper and board manufacturers with their supply chains from pulp producers to chemical suppliers, and then again further with the converters, brand owners and retailers. Let’s work together!