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Joining forces for a circular economy: Huhtamaki and Emerald Ventures gather the sharpest minds in the packaging industry to collaborate on innovative solutions

Joining forces for a circular economy: Huhtamaki and Emerald Ventures gather the sharpest minds in the packaging industry to collaborate on innovative solutions
When bright minds bring bold ideas across the packaging value chain, great things can happen. Huhtamaki and Emerald Ventures bring together packaging industry, visionary startups, investors and experts in a workshop to address circularity of packaging. According to Marina Madanat, Executive Vice President Strategy and Business Development at Huhtamaki, developing this opportunity for packaging requires working together.  

The packaging industry is undergoing a paradigm shift, driven by sustainability. Traditionally, packaging converters have primarily focused on designing the most suitable packaging shapes from the best available materials per brand owners’ specifications. In the past years, the packaging industry has been taking increasing leadership in driving innovation for packaging circularity. This includes taking an active role in innovation across the full life cycle of packaging, including material structures, forming technologies, collection and recycling models, as well as of end-of-life handling of packaging. 

“Innovation in the packaging industry is critical to staying ahead in a changing world. As customers turn to us for sustainable solutions, we need to innovate more holistically than before. In addition to the traditional packaging design for circularity, this includes material and technology innovation and business models for collection and recycling of packaging, which is a valuable raw material source. Succeeding in such holistic innovation requires systems thinking, partnerships and working together with the brightest minds in the packaging world and beyond,” says Marina Madanat, Executive Vice President Strategy and Business Development at Huhtamaki. 

Bold ideas turn into innovations 

Huhtamaki has a long tradition of partnering with global customers for innovation and has several proprietary sustainable packaging technologies in its portfolio. Where the company wants to put even more effort today is solving challenges in packaging circularity with systemic solutions built on wider partnerships across the packaging value chain.  

Huhtamaki’s vision is to be the first choice in sustainable packaging solutions. This requires holistically incorporating game-changing technology, material and business model innovation, at a global scale. Ahead are profitable growth opportunities, but also hard work. 

“We are making strategic investments for the future in an industry which is undergoing unprecedented change. We have always prioritized listening to our customers and will continue to do so. This has allowed us to dare to innovate for truly breakthrough technologies with global industrial scalability in mind already in the very beginning of the innovation concepts. 

Huhtamaki’s  blueloop™ program focuses on sustainable value-added technology innovation to produce packaging that is recyclable, reusable or compostable, made from responsibly sourced material and having lower carbon footprint than the products it replaces. In flexible packaging, groundbreaking mono-material structures were launched this year with optimized recyclability while making no compromises on the packaging functionality and protective properties. The Huhtamaki team has further developed high-precision smooth-molded-fiber technology, based on long-term experience in egg packaging, to replace complex rigid plastic shapes.  

“Our extraordinary team originally working on advancing egg packaging technologies had the courage and vision to apply this technology principles to highly demanding food-contact applications to substitute black plastic that is undetectable by sorting technologies. The team worked in a partnership with a customer and suppliers and the result is a smooth-molded-fiber high-precision technology that can be used to manufacture a variety of complex food sensitive applications on global scale, such as fiber lids for cups or microwavable meal trays,” Madanat explains. 

Solving for packaging circularity is a burning need, which requires bringing more of such innovations to the market at industrial scale fast and cost efficiently. Empowered, entrepreneurial and agile teams with ability to think systemically and to partner across the value chain is the way forward. 

“At Huhtamaki we believe in the extraordinary power of teams of individuals coming together from all parts of the value chain united by passion for sustainability. This is how systems thinking and bold innovation ideas come forward, which are so critical for driving packaging circularity. Every innovation is born from iterations of trial and error. Our leadership’s job is to empower such extraordinary teams to partner together, enabled by collaborative processes and environment where it is safe to fail, learn and move on fast”.   

Bringing forerunners together at Slush 

Huhtamaki has successfully collaborated with startups in the past to develop innovative solutions. One area of focus has been development of new protective barrier solutions for fiber and paper packaging. In 2022, Emerald Technology Ventures, a leader in sustainable industrial technology venture capital, announced the launch of a fund focused on sustainable packaging. Huhtamaki invested in the fund, which is one of the first venture-backed investment vehicles targeting to finance innovations across the full packaging lifecycle. 

In December, Huhtamaki and Emerald Ventures are bringing together experts and innovators, investors, visionary start-ups and scientists to a co-creation workshop at the startup event Slush in Helsinki, Finland. The aim of the workshop is to discuss ideas and approaches to solve for packaging circularity. 

"I look forward to engaging with the startups, listening to and learning from their vision and experience, and discussing how we can best work together to solve challenges related to packaging circularity. Visionary start-ups can hold the keys of bold ideas and bold innovation to solving this systems challenge. Huhtamaki’s strength is in our ability to innovate with industrial scale in mind from the very beginning of innovation, and our ability to leverage our global footprint to scale fast. We need to build relationships that create genuine value for everyone in such partnerships," says Madanat. 

Madanat believes that the future of sustainable packaging depends on systems thinking, creative and holistic solutions to the circularity challenges. She suggests that we should focus on enabling talented teams and partnerships to drive such innovation.  

"Packaging is on the path of being redefined 10 years from now by sustainability, and we are prepared to evolve with the changing world," she adds. 

Huhtamaki is organizing a panel discussion and workshop together with Emerald Ventures on Friday December 1, 2023 with the following title – The Future of Packaging – How to make packaging better, smarter and more sustainable? The panel and workshop is a side-event to Slush, a tech and start-up event organized in Helsinki.