New insights from Stora Enso packaging materials

Six factors that are creating demand for fiber-based materials in food packaging
New insights from Stora Enso packaging materials
Photo - Stora Enso

Packaging is an indispensable part of our daily lives: It protects the products we make and use, provides essential safety and hygiene, preserves the shelf life of perishable items, communicates invaluable information, supports the flow of goods to consumers, and prevents food waste. Packaging also communicates important sustainability information. Fiber-based materials are a great alternative to non-renewable plastic packaging, and a change in the packaging materials market is happening. Brand owners, retailers, and converters are looking to become more sustainable and find new food packaging materials that can reduce their environmental footprint. In a practical guide that was developed in consultation with leading experts within the Packaging Materials Division at Stora Enso, including sustainability managers, LCA specialists, product developers, and others, The company highlights six reasons why the change in the market is happening now at a fast pace. It also discusses these themes thoroughly in its guidebook.

1. Consumers demand change

Today, consumers are environmentally conscious. They want the convenience of practical packaging while requiring brands also to take responsibility for sustainability, expecting brands to choose the most environmentally friendly alternatives. Consumer preferences are a strong driver. Stora Enso's research shows that an overwhelming majority of European consumers prefer fiber-based packaging and choose products with as little plastic packaging as possible.

This environmental consciousness greatly affects the market and drives brands to adopt smart and sustainable packaging materials.

2. Governments are pushing legislation that limits plastic.

Across the world, and especially in Europe, legislation is being put in place to target plastic packaging materials. Two examples are the European Green Deal and the European Union Directive on Single-Use Plastics. The first requires packaging in the EU to be reusable or recyclable by 2030, whereas the latter came into effect in 2021, targeting all plastic single-use products like cutlery, plates, straws, cups, and food containers.

3. NGOs are advocating for policy change.

Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) have proven to be powerful drivers in the change toward a more sustainable future. They conduct and fund research and often support companies in setting up sustainability targets. In many cases the public trusts them, and thereby they can influence policy changes and take an active part in the public discussion about what is good and sustainable packaging for the future.

4. Retailers understand the market.

Due to consumer demands, many retailers push suppliers toward new, more sustainable solutions in general. When it comes to packaging, they require sustainable alternatives while also understanding the importance of cost-efficiency, transportation, and branding. Additionally, retailers often have their private labels where they can influence packaging, setting the bar for other brands as well.

5. Brand owners want to represent positive values.

Beyond the regulatory requirements, brands strive to be associated with positive environmental values. This is often expressed in sustainability targets regarding emissions reduction, circularity, and a reduced environmental footprint. Packaging is important because it is the first thing that consumers see on the shelves and it also affects transportation, recycling, reusability, and many other environmental aspects. Choosing materials that fulfill all requirements can give a competitive edge, leading to more brands moving towards fiber-based solutions.

6. The revolution in material development presents an alternative.

Unlike plastic, fiber-based materials from sustainably managed and certified forests are a renewable resource. The innovations of converting wood fibers to packaging materials are opening new opportunities to help solve some of the challenges we face as a modern society. It offers benefits such as recyclability, low carbon footprint, traceability, and efficiency of material use. Forests also bind carbon dioxide, especially when the trees are growing – an important part of combatting global warming.

Today, wood-based materials can be used for more and more purposes. And even if plastic is required for some uses due to its barrier properties, wood-based packaging can offer a structure that minimizes the amount of plastic in products. Tomorrow, Stora Enso hopes to remove it entirely.

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