Just leave out the packaging and everything will be fine. Unfortunately, this romantic approach can only become reality in individual cases, as we have often discussed in this blog: keyword goods protection, keyword hygiene, keyword perishability. What always works great, however, is to replace ecologically questionable packaging materials with harmless ones. And using renewable raw materials instead of fossil raw materials. Remove and Renew are the corresponding steps in PACOON's 10-R strategy.
Of course, companies not only want to be sure that they are really contributing to a sustainable packaging economy with Renew and Remove. They also want to know whether and how such a changeover will pay off.
The general answer economists usually give to such questions is: It depends. Which is not very helpful. Concrete examples are better. For example, this one, which has almost become a classic: in the case of packaging for which it is essential to use plastics, for example for safety reasons, their use can nevertheless be massively reduced through intelligent design. The inner coating is then still made of plastic, but cardboard ensures the stability of the packaging. The result: up to forty percent of the plastic can be avoided in this way or replaced by a more compatible variant. "Of course, the crucial question is always how these materials can be recycled in the end. There is often the misconception that a film on fiber material would already prevent paper recycling. This is not necessarily the case. In most cases, this variant is also more expensive than the plastic variant due to the fiber material. In many countries, however, there is no plastic collection for packaging. For products without residual adhesion, this can at least be a partial step towards the Circular Economy," says PACOON Managing Director Peter Désilets.
What's more: in most cases, the product's image is enhanced by the use of a largely plastic-free variant. "Cardboard packaging is perceived as being of higher quality and more sustainable than packaging made of plastic in the majority of product categories," says Alexander Haas, Professor of Marketing and Sales Management at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, who has conducted an extensive study on the subject. However, one should be careful about declaring such hybrid packages as paper packaging across the board, as is often pompously proclaimed in the case of packages abroad. In the future, greenwashing or unsubstantiated sustainability claims will be subject to severe penalties at the EU level.
Of course, a direct conversion of remove and renew strategies to product costs is anything but trivial. Again demonstrated by the example of plastics: On the one hand, plastic is expensive to produce, but on the other hand, it is often possible to get by with relatively light containers or films, which makes the price attractive again. Cardboard, on the other hand, is heavier, but has the advantage of being very reusable and recyclable, not only in theory but also in practice. In addition, the starting materials for its production are not fossil-based, as is the case with most plastics today, but renewable. "The bottom line is that you have to look at the complete concept all the way through and not just the pure material exchange. That is, of course, very complex. One of our examples shows emblematically that the new material can be more expensive, but offsetting disposal costs, reduced material input for the outer packaging, space efficiency, disposal costs and transport and logistics, there would be a significant saving. What am I talking about? Our alternative concept for chip bags," says Peter Désilets, explaining the complexity of ROI calculations.
In the long run, this offers an invaluable economic advantage. After all, efforts in the European Union are clearly moving in the direction of banning fossil packaging and disposable solutions, or at least making them more expensive, while promoting renewable and reusable packaging.
However, rethinking packaging design also makes sense for another reason. Because redesign can often also increase the recycling rate: "Today, we can only recycle fifty percent of the separately collected packaging," says Kerstin Kuchta, Professor of Waste Management at the Technical University of Hamburg. Packaging that is redesigned in line with the Remove and Renew idea can also provide a remedy here and significantly better quotas. Describing the agony of material selection, Désilets says, "We always look at the different end-of-life scenarios that make sense for our customers when we design. In doing so, we regularly offer more options than the customer himself has considered. Every now and then, we also have to shatter dreams because the wrong assumptions were made, or else. However, the important thing is to achieve the best possible solution, which as a rule will not be a 100% solution. In our view, there is no such thing. Every challenge is also too individual for that."
B2B sector on the move
This is one of the reasons why a whole range of new ideas have recently emerged on how to replace plastic with renewable packaging. This starts with the corn starch films now used in many sectors, but goes much further. In the USA, for example, a spray was recently presented that, when applied to fruit and vegetables, significantly improves their shelf life and transportability. The trick is that the spray itself is made from vegetables and fruit or their waste.
Efforts to dispense with packaging made from fossil materials are also gaining momentum in the B2B sector. In the automotive supply industry, cardboard is on the rise, often as part of sophisticated reuse systems. The industry would also like to use more plastics made from recyclate, but sufficient suitable material is not always available. The high demand also makes recycled films relatively expensive. In a broader context, however, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. After all, the shortage could give an extra boost to the search for economically viable, non-fossil alternatives. "Meanwhile, the attitude from the late 2010s has also changed. We used to get requests for sustainable alternatives that should not be more expensive than currently used plastic packaging. Meanwhile, the restriction is 'not significantly more expensive.' The energy crisis and increased prices have resulted in significantly more expensive costs per se. But the big push for recycled PET has also left its mark. Just a few years ago, we warned that with this high demand, which we already felt at the time, prices would inevitably rise," Désilets tells us about the change in customer requirements.
Incidentally, polyester, which was once cheap, is now twice as expensive as PP or PE. rPET is then about 20% more expensive again, although a few years ago it was cheaper than virgin PET. With the new renewable solutions, however, larger production volumes are being realized, which in turn bring a reduction in price through economies of scale. So the market is clearly on the move. "Only with bio-based plastics do we see more of a parallel move with fossil plastic prices. However, these 'bioplastics' are not so much price-driven, but rather ideologically motivated," says Désilets.
The goals of climate neutrality naturally also play into the hands of renewables, because they often come up with lower CO2 values than plastic-based packaging. With a CO2 price of 100 euros per ton, this aspect is also becoming increasingly important in calculations and brand image.