How does PACOON actually achieve Renew and Remove in packaging materials – and where do customers need advice above all?
Renew doesn't just mean „new material that grows back“, but also new thinking in the concept itself. In other words, what needs to be achieved in order to be able to use renewable materials. In the case of food, cosmetics or animal feed, high barrier requirements often come into play. Therefore, the path to Renew usually leads via the use of new barriers, which are optimally also bio-based. We are also working on alternatives to alufoil or aluminization – i.e. under the remove approach to reduce functional but harmful substances – that offer a very high barrier. But sometimes these high barriers are not needed at all, which is also an important learning with customers themselves. Instead of asking what would be the highest barrier to play it safe, we first try to work out the real requirements – which many customers themselves also don't know. And based on that, we look for acceptable solutions or can actually offer good high barriers. Because it's easier to find alternatives that meet lower barrier requirements than to replace maximum barriers.
How often does it actually happen that companies explicitly look for new materials for their packaging without wanting to completely rethink this packaging?
That is actually very often the case, perhaps even the first classic approach. However, this is often associated with more expensive materials, because there is, after all, a good reason why many packages have been made thinner and more efficient in recent years and decades. The bio-based magic material, which is better or equivalent and then also cheaper, does not tend to exist with plastics. With fibers, this is more possible, especially when it comes to waste raw materials or recycled fibers. Another goal is usually the quick wins, which are almost always part of a briefing. Where can I quickly achieve good improvements without much effort. However, a concept should not stop there, because these 'low hanging fruits' usually also mean small effects in the CO2 balance, the costs and mostly also in the circularity.
When do Renew and Remove make sense – and when do you have to dampen your hopes?
Remove and Renew actually always make sense when it comes to fossil plastics – and that is one of the most frequent requests at the moment. But it is also a special challenge to find and develop solutions here. We often have to dampen all too high hopes in the area of bioplastics, simply because availability is still very low. And because composting or industrial composting are not really realistic. Strictly speaking, disposal via the organic waste garbage can is even prohibited by law. That's where we have to go a long way in analyzing the sales market, where it makes sense.
What are the three hurdles that companies have to overcome to be able to use alternative materials in the first place?
Hurdle number one in the use is usually a sufficient amount of packaging, because these materials are usually not quickly available in all variants and small quantities. A next hurdle is the cost of the packaging, which can be very high for small quantities. Those who need large quantities usually get good prices. The third hurdle for us is always the question of actual recyclability, which should always be kept in mind. Not everything that is sustainable and biobased in terms of raw materials can also be recycled in the best possible way at the end.
Could you briefly outline what the transformation to new materials looks like in general?
The transformation has completely different scenarios. In the area of bioplastics, such as PLA, which is one of the best-known materials, a film change also has an impact on the processing temperature and speed that can be set on the machines. But in addition to other barrier properties to PE films, PLA film behaves differently depending on the climate even when just stored on a roll, and also as packaging for products that travel 'across the 'equator', the demands on film longevity are growing. When we package long-life products that spend five to six years in storage or on the shelf, the film should still be able to perform its basic functions. This is not always easy with 'compostable' films and is often a no-go.
With renewable fiber materials that are not derived from wood, the requirements are different again. These materials must be tried and tested, the production on the one hand, but also the consistently high availability of the raw material on the other must be fulfilled. About ten years ago, we had sugar cane fibers on offer as packaging, but the availability with six to eight weeks delivery time from Asia did not correspond to the short-term reaction time of the customers. So this was not due to the material, the much lower CO2 value, the good quality, printability and weight saving. It was simply not 'in stock'. These and other aspects such as recyclability, processing, harmlessness of origin must be taken into account.
What roles do strained supply chains and raw material prices play in the trend toward more sustainable materials?
In any case, it has broadened the view to look for alternatives. For decades, it was easy and convenient to rely on certain materials. Supply chains, timelines, availability were guaranteed, and materials were supposedly cheap. With disrupted supply chains and significant price increases, companies have had to rethink. In parallel, sustainability finally took off, laws were tightened, and companies could no longer rest on doing less bad. They suddenly had to look for a good solution to avoid being left behind or paying on top. So two factors came together and together they increased the pressure to look for alternatives. We keep hearing the phrase 'We set ourselves the goal of implementing more sustainable solutions years ago, but now the pressure from the law and trade is so great that we have to act immediately'. Congratulations on this decision!
What do companies expect from such a material exchange and can these expectations always be met?
A 'simple' material exchange is still very complex and often it is not considered. But it is still easier than rethinking the entire packaging concept. That's why we hear more and more often, 'We've tried, but we're not getting anywhere and need external expertise'. Partly, there are also very exaggerated timing ideas. This also correlates with the result. Of course, I can also meet short-term timings, but if the urgency is higher than the importance, then the concept has to be compromised. No one will reproach me in four or five years that our concept was bad, but the timing was perfect! As a rule, it is always the concept that is evaluated; whether the timing was adhered to is irrelevant in the case of a successful concept. A bad concept, on the other hand, remains bad. Therefore, the goals should be clearly defined. But it is also quite possible to realize a good concept in a tight timing, but then perhaps not immediately over the whole portfolio or only with small starting quantities.
When does it make no sense at all to deal with Renew and Remove?
It always makes sense to look into it. Renew and Remove both offer the potential to avoid and reduce CO2, limited resources or harmful environmental impact. Both are also possible in all types of packaging, whether single-use or reusable, and with all materials such as fibers, metals, plastics or glass. There is no such thing as a 100% solution, so there is always potential for optimization. I always say: Sustainability means reducing waste; and that means saving costs. So if you don't deal with Renew and Remove, you're wasting money!
Thank you for the interview!