Packaging regulation that is too local and extensive will slow down innovation, says Stora Enso CEO Annica Bresky.
The first principle of circular economy: design out waste and pollution.
This simple rule set by the UK-based non-profit Ellen McArthur Foundation puts design at the center of the circular economy.
Yet the reality today is that most things are still designed for the linear model: create, use, throw out. This means that almost everything needs to be redesigned from the beginning with circular economy in mind.
And this is exactly what the global renewable materials company Stora Enso is doing.
"We need global standards for circularity."
"When circularity is already considered in the design phase, we are much more likely to achieve that in practice as well," says Annica Bresky, CEO, Stora Enso.
For Stora Enso, designing for circularity is imperative, and all business units have to consider circular design in all their actions.
The company has set itself seven core circular design principles: Design out waste. Design for renewable materials, functionality, recycled materials, and recyclability. Always design for circularity of the full value chain, as well as for circular business models.
Understanding and developing the whole value chain is critical for circular economy
Stora Enso produces renewable packaging from wood fiber.
"Wood is an extraordinary raw material," says Bresky.
"It is is renewable, recyclable and fossil-free. Today our solutions are found in such segments as building, retail, food and beverages, manufacturing, publishing, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, confectionary, hygiene and textiles. Tomorrow, we believe there is the potential to produce anything that’s made with fossil-based materials from a tree."
For Stora Enso, the first step in the circular design process is making sure that the raw materials are sourced sustainably.
"Trees and wood fiber are our raw material. Our key sustainability topics are related to that; the sustainable management of forests, maintaining biodiversity, eliminating material loss and combatting global warming by maintaining forests as carbon storages," Bresky says.
"To achieve this, we work with industry standards for forestry certification and traceability."
However, in a circular economy there really isn’t a beginning or an end—only the circle. Because of this, Stora Enso is partnering with others across the wider packaging value chain and contributing to areas such as recycling infrastructure, technology, and awareness.
"For Stora Enso, understanding and developing the value chain is critical," Bresky says.
"Transforming to circularity does not happen overnight or in isolation. This means working with partners, customers and other stakeholders to identify possibilities for circular material flows and maximising the net value of materials."
Innovative ways to keep the value of materials high over several life cycles needed
To develop the whole value chain, Stora Enso runs a Circular Packaging Programme which develops partnerships for driving the collection and recycling of paperboard packaging.
"We want to find innovative ways to keep the value of materials as high as possible over several life cycles."
One example of such a cooperation is Stora Enso’s aim to partner with others to start recycling used paper cups on a large scale at the company’s Langerbrugge paper mill in Belgium. In recycling trials at the mill, half a million used paper cups collected from fast food restaurants and coffee houses were recycled into magazine paper.
Reducing food loss and waste is critical and packaging should be focused on doing exactly that
For Bresky, the most crucial issues related to circularity in food packaging are decarbonizing the production of packaging and creating packaging that both protects the product and can be recycled.
"First, the actual production process should be fossil-free. Then, the product logistics need to be taken into account to ensure that the transportation required is as low on emissions as possible," Bresky explains.
"When it comes to the food packaging itself, the most critical role is to protect the product and reduce food loss. Finally, of course, the packaging needs to be recyclable after use, which to a large extent depends on the recycling infrastructure in a given country."
Global standards with local applications needed
Today, countries are in very different phases when it comes to enabling packaging circularity.
However, Bresky is convinced that consumers everywhere will continue to move steadily towards favoring more sustainable packaging. Local solutions will develop, and the best ones will spread from one country to another.
Yet one impediment to reaching circular economy on a global scale can be regulation gone wrong. If regulation ends up being too local and extensive, innovation can slow down, Bresky warns.
"Stora Enso is a global player and a fiber-based packaging materials expert, and we serve many markets with differing regulation and preferences," Bresky says.
"Creating very local and extensive regulation in the short term that the packaging value chain as a whole cannot answer to, even in the medium term, may create fractioned needs and slow down the speed of innovation. There needs to be scale and time to innovate, invest and adapt, for the consumers as well."
Another risk may be the lack of a common view or definition of circular packaging.
"We need global standards in combination with locally adapted applications with the shared goal of contributing to a circular bioeconomy."