What do producers and retail chains have to consider when switching to fiber-based packaging?
First, as always, is the guarantee of product protection. The barrier requirements must be achieved, and the product must not be adversely affected – whether by odor or taste in the case of food or scratch protection in the case of household appliances or electronic products.
What are the most common mistakes that happen when switching to fiber-based packaging?
If one can speak of mistakes, then it is probably the approach that the material is to be replaced instead of thinking about a new packaging concept. Fiber packaging is then to be designed in the same way as plastic packaging. This leads to many other aspects being ignored. Another mistake is often that no thought is given to the entire value chain, but instead the material is essentially considered. This then prevents other potentials from being seen, which can arise in logistics, warehousing, perception or disposal.
How much product protection can fiber-based packaging really provide – and where is it inferior to plastic packaging in this respect?
Essentially, barrier performance depends on the coatings; the fiber itself has only a limited protective function. Plastic, of course, already brings some barrier functions. Above all, it is important to know one's own barrier requirements. And this is where brand owners often get stuck. Many do not even know the true requirements, but have always oriented themselves to the optimum or to what the plastic packaging has already made possible – whether this was necessary or not was usually not even questioned.
Fiber-based packaging is at least as expensive as fossil-based packaging. What economic argument is there for them nevertheless?
Fiber-based packaging is more expensive primarily when it involves more weight or material thickness. However, the packaging itself does not necessarily have to be more expensive. Here it is important to consider the entire value chain and also a new packaging concept. Fiber packaging also brings advantages on the disposal fee side, and many fiber packages also offer a low CO2 footprint. Since CO2 per ton is becoming more and more expensive, this will also make itself strongly felt in the future. A folding box also offers different stability values compared to a bag, which means that the outer packaging or the outer carton could possibly be designed differently, which in turn could result in lower costs and also less space requirements. Therefore, packaging concepts should always be compared, not the mere exchange of materials.
How does the appearance of the packaging affect the ecological promise of the product?
Fiber packaging has a more sustainable perception with consumers, studies have shown this for many years. Fiber packaging also achieves dramatically higher recycling rates than plastic packaging. Waste paper recycling is also already established in many countries around the world, but this is often not the case with plastics. So there are many ecologically important aspects that fiber packaging brings with it, but for this to happen, the entire packaging concept must also be coherent.
Are there industries or products where fiber-based packaging is not yet conceivable from today's perspective?
There are industries where the last few percentages are still missing, such as in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, in the high-barrier area, for product visibility or in the area of scratch protection. The exciting thing about the developments, however, is that there used to be many solutions, but they were gradually replaced by the "simple" plastic variants. Now the focus is more on sustainability, so "old“ solutions are experiencing a renaissance again and optimization with new materials.
Is there an economic tipping point where fiber-based packaging can also be cheaper than conventional packaging?
Yes, there is, if you look at the entire packaging concept across the value chain. In a total cost consideration, there is usually even a savings potential of 10% and more, because in the course of a new concept, other aspects are also questioned that have been carried along for many years and were never questioned. However, economic benefits are difficult to assess when it comes to brand or corporate image.
How will the availability of fiber-based packaging evolve?
Deforestation is a big issue, and deforestation for packaging is viewed critically. However, you also have to see that for wood fiber packaging, only the remains of the trees are recycled, not the core and trunks themselves. So the cause certainly lies in other industrial sectors. The alternative fiber materials from agricultural residues or production residues therefore hold huge potential to protect forests from deforestation and at the same time significantly reduce the carbon footprint. It can therefore be assumed that the resources are more likely to increase significantly.
What technological limitations do you have to consider in the production of fiber-based packaging?
The limits are currently changing very rapidly, so we should not make the mistake of assuming that what is not possible today will not be state of the art in a few years' time. Development is also progressing rapidly in the processing of fiber-based packaging. Running speeds, fiber abrasion, new barriers, spray processes on 3D containers, ultrasonic sealing ... research is being done in all areas, and new solutions are coming to market every week.
Is 100% fiber-based packaging on supermarket shelves conceivable in the foreseeable future?
100% is sweeping, if there is no color, no adhesives, no binders, etc., then we could theoretically talk about 100%. But there is always a bit of foreign matter in the fiber packaging. But if we ignore that, then there are already some packages that are close to 100%. The sugar cube is not glued and has no barrier. But the convenience idea for “sprinkling“ has favored the sugar stick, which in turn includes a sealing film that only serves to seal it. Flour and sugar packets are folded and glued, but also come almost without foreign substances.