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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Finnish Bio-Based Innovations Could Be a Game-Changer for Plastic Packaging

Once ranked the ‘greenest’ country in the world, Finland’s strong R&D programs have kept the country at the forefront of innovation in bio-based and circular solutions for materials and packaging.

Consumers want sustainable and recyclable packaging. Increased awareness is driving demand for businesses to move away from single-use packaging waste. Finland is hoping more companies will look to its forest-derived technology and innovations to help reduce plastic packaging. In short, the Nordic country is leading the charge for change with many new packaging material initiatives.

Why Finland?

Three-quarters of Finland’s landmass is forest; and its wood-based industries have paired long-held forestry traditions with innovative new uses for timber and pulp products. Once ranked the ‘greenest’ country in the world by Yale and Columbia University’s Environmental Performance Index, Finland’s strong R&D programs — such as through VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland — have kept the country at the forefront of innovation in bio-based solutions for materials and packaging.

As a nation, Finland has set bold environmental and carbon-neutrality goals, aiming to be carbon neutral and the first fossil-free welfare society by 2035.

Better packaging materials

One Finnish company delivering sustainable packaging solutions is Huhtamaki – a global provider of materials to protect on-the-go and on-the-shelf food and beverages with 100 years of history.

“Billions of people use food packaging every day. It plays a fundamental role in ensuring food hygiene and safety, driving accessibility and affordability, and helping prevent food waste,” says Thomasine Kamerling, EVP of Sustainability and Communications at Huhtamaki. “We seek to shape the sustainable future of everyday life — delivering retailers and consumers with the future-proof and sustainable packaging solutions they need to protect food, people and the planet.”

Huhtamaki recently partnered with Unilever to transition the packaging for its Carte D’Or ice cream range to recyclable paper tubs and lids. The move to recyclable paper-based packaging, which uses 93 percent less plastic per tub, will help the brand eliminate more than 900 tons of virgin plastic annually in the UK alone. This year, Huhtamaki launched a first-to-market Push Tab® blister lid — an aluminum free, mono-material polyethylene terephthalate (PET) blister lidding — for the global healthcare industry. The company says it significantly improves the recyclability of the packaging while remaining compatible with existing, high-performance blister packaging lines.

Another Finnish innovator, Sulapac, produces fully biodegradable plastic packaging alternatives made solely from sustainably harvested wood and natural binders, which have seen a lot of uptake from cosmetics brands such as Niki Newd and Chanel. The company has also developed a renewable, biodegradable alternative to plastic straws that can now be found at luxury hotels including St. Regis, Four Seasons Resort and Caesars Palace in Dubai.

Reusable packaging for e-commerce

The global e-commerce market is forecast to reach a projected value of $98.2 billion by 2025. As those goods reach homes around the world, so does the protective packaging they come in; so, a shift away from plastic is essential. Another Nordic startup, RePack, delivers reusable packaging services for online retailers. Its award-winning, reusable bags and boxes fold into letter size when empty and can be returned via any postbox, anywhere in the world, free of charge. RePack provides turnkey solutions for online retailers, as well as packaging-rental services for enabling closed-loop processes in rental and re-commerce.

Meanwhile, a startup called Paptic produces material for various packaging applications such as retail shopping bags, e-commerce mailers and product packaging from renewable wood fibers from sustainably managed forests in Finland. For example, bags made of Paptic wood are durable and reusable by the end consumer, as well as easy to recycle with packaging papers and cardboard.

Consumer demand drivers

Recent research found that more than half of US consumers are highly concerned about the environmental impact of packaging. Consumers are not only willing to pay more for sustainable solutions, they would also buy additional sustainably packaged products if more of them were available and they were better labeled; and they are almost equally interested in recyclable and recycled plastic packaging and in fiber-based substitutes.

Finland is getting the word out about its sustainability and innovation efforts through Business Finland — a trade, investment and travel promotion and innovation funding organization.

“Our future-looking industries have responded by developing a high level of green research and technology know-how – including biomass packaging,” says Outi Suomi, Head of the Bio and Circular Finland program for Business Finland. “With these innovative approaches to material design, we are aiming to make the transition from linear to circular material flow.”