Packed with sustainability

29.6.2015
Minna Kantsila

Cartonboard continues to be one of the most popular materials used for example in confectionery, bakery and fast food packaging. Somewhat less well known are, however, the various positive effects of using fresh forest fibres in paperboard packaging that contribute to its choice as a sustainable material.

Endlessly renewable

Paperboard is the only widely used renewable packaging material, as it is made of trees that are harvested and regenerated. In Finland, for example – the most wooded country in Europe with 86% of its total land area forested – four trees are now planted or regenerated for every one harvested for use in bioproducts.

None of the tree is wasted; it is used for example as sawn timber, paperboard pulp and raw material for bioenergy, reducing consumption of oil and other fossil fuels.

Reduced carbon footprint

Turning to bioenergy has reduced carbon footprint in the industry. Major advances have also been made in lightweighting technology. Boards produced this way can produce more than 50% more cartons per tonne. Lightweighting requires fewer raw materials per tonne of output, less water and energy. It is also lighter to transport, and there is less to dispose of at the end of a package’s life cycle.

Less food waste

In Europe alone, 11% of all food produced ends up in the bin – 89 tonnes annually. Packaging can make a real difference in diminishing food waste. The package needs to protect the food during transit, keep it fresh and be sustainable. These requirements set high standards for the raw material. Fresh forest fibre boards are clean by nature and of identifiable composition. They are also approved for direct food contact. The material is safe for food packaging as such, and doesn’t require a barrier against contaminants or possible cross contamination from transport packaging. Adding an unnecessary barrier makes recycling more difficult, increases the package’s carbon footprint and production costs, as well as reduces material efficiency and waste reduction targets.

Life after life

Finally, paper and board have an advantage over other packaging materials when it comes to recycling. In Europe, over 80% of consumed paper and board are recycled. If packaging isn’t recycled, paperboard biodegrades in approximately three months, whereas metal may last for 90 years, plastic for 700 years, and glass for up to a million years.

Recycling is, however, completely dependent on new fibres entering the waste stream. Since paper and board are not infinitely recyclable, without the constant injection of fresh or virgin fibres, production of recycled boards would cease in around six months. Luckily, our source of raw material is anything but diminishing. Finnish forests grow by 100M square metres every year, whereas annual logging amounts to only 60M square metres a year.

Minna Kantsila
Product Manager,
Metsä Board Production and Technology

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