Home » Sustainable Business » Circular design: when packaging is made to be recycled

Hans Wortman

Internal Business Consultant at WEPA Group and Chair, the 4evergreen Alliance

Being sustainable is about making the right choices, such as with fibre-based packaging. However, it can be very complex because not every business looks at sustainability from the same angle. That’s why it is important to create forums where industry players can exchange their views when they need to meet common objectives.

When industry players decide to put their perspectives together, real change can happen. That is what lies behind the 4evergreen alliance: over 100 companies, all committed to sustainability, united for the same purpose — boosting the circularity of fibre-based packaging.

Fibre-based packaging: a circular solution

Circularity is a key pillar of any sustainable society because it promotes more efficient use of resources, favouring renewable materials and minimising environmental impact. Our alliance gathers all segments of the fibre-based packaging value chain.

Since ‘fibre-based’ refers to materials made mainly from primary or recycled cellulosic fibres, like paper or cardboard, this type of packaging is highly renewable and well-suited for recycling.

Fibre-based packaging can be found almost everywhere today, so many organisations are involved in its life cycle — from forest managers to packaging designers and producers, or brand owners that need packaging to ensure their products arrive safely to customers.

The first step for the 4evergreen alliance was to set a common target: by 2030, at least 90% of fibre-based packaging to be recycled in Europe.

Packaging designers don’t always know what materials are more easily recycled.

Design: the first opportunity to boost circularity

To achieve our primary commitment towards circularity, we look at aspects that affect the design, collection, sorting and recycling of packaging products. Design is the first phase in any product’s creation and the start of the journey for fibre-based packaging. That makes it our first opportunity to drive circularity.

Packaging designers don’t always know what materials are more easily recycled. For example, the use of certain packaging components (like adhesives or coatings) — in addition to fibres — may impact the recycling process. To help them make the right choices, experts from 4evergreen member companies produced the ‘Circularity by Design’ guideline.

Aiming to reach a 90% recycling rate for fibre-based packaging by 2030.

A guideline with practical design recommendations

The guideline offers recommendations about how packaging design decisions can impact different recycling processes. While it feeds on technical knowledge, it is practical and straight to the point.

The first part of the guideline was published a year ago and covers standard recycling technologies that can process the majority of fibre-based packaging. Experts worked hard on the recently released, second version of the guideline that integrates specialised technologies for the recycling of other types of fibre-based (paper and cardboard) composite packaging that meet more demanding performance criteria, such as providing a long shelf life for sensitive products in the case of beverage cartons.

The result of that work is available to all so that other businesses can start applying them too. A series of small changes, when implemented by the whole industry, can lead to transformation. That is how we move from a linear to a circular system — together.

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