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With the world’s attention suddenly focused on the need to reduce our use of single-use plastics, how can businesses switch to greener alternatives?

When David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II first aired on the BBC, it raised huge public attention of an issue that has been concerning environmentalists for decades: the number of plastics finding their way into our oceans and, eventually, the food supply.

This growing awareness and the changing sensibilities about plastic use – in particular, single-use plastics – offers an opportunity to reduce the number of plastics we use and, ultimately, ends up in our oceans.

In response to public pressure following the airing of the TV show, in June 2018 the fast-food chain McDonalds, which uses 1.8m straws a day, announced that it will stop using plastic straws in all its UK restaurants by 2019. Other restaurants and fast-food chains have announced similar measures.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Ireland, a trailblazer when it comes to phasing out single-use plastics – it was the first country to introduce a ban on single-use plastic bags back in 2002, a move that has since been followed by many countries – is now considering legislation to tackle the use of the disposable single-use plastic lids and cups used by many coffee chains.

While advances are being made, environmental groups are pressing for a more radical approach to be taken. When supermarket chain Lidl announced it would stop using the black plastic packaging on its fruit and vegetables that can’t currently be recycled in the UK, Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth , acknowledge it was a positive step but said: “Let’s not just switch one plastic for another. Our fruit and vegetables don’t need to come smothered in a plastic jacket.”

Instead, paper producers have an exciting opportunity to step up and help solve some of these challenges. Some solutions are more obvious than others. The practicalities of swapping single-use plastic straws for paper straws are fairly straightforward and it opens new opportunities for local paper packaging manufacturers to respond to this emerging market.

But paper manufacturers need to think still more creatively to make the most of the new market opportunities.

Trailblazers include Triocup, an all-paper cup that folds over at its top, thereby eliminating the need for a plastic lid on your coffee cup, and Frugal, which has developed a new paper-cup material that is easier to recycle. This all-paper approach has a significant advantage over combined material products that can be difficult to recycle.

Meanwhile, BillerudKorsnäs and Curti Costruzioni Meccaniche have joint forces to develop FreeForm Pack , the first formable paper package. A 3D-formable paper called FibreForm is used to give a manufactured paper package form and shape – making the packaging suitable for non-liquid food and all non-food markets.

It’s an exciting time for paper manufacturers –their innovations will not only enable them to exploit market opportunities but they will also be contributing to solving one of the major challenges facing our planet.

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