DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.
Mar 22, 2021 (updated: Mar 22, 2021)
Today, fiber packaging is one of the most innovative ecosystems and has a huge role to play in delivering the EU’s Green deal whilst helping drive hygiene and safety for consumers globally. On its own naked paper simply can’t maintain its integrity for long when exposed to food and drink. For example, when paper cups were first invented in a bid to prevent the spread of TB caused by the bacterial cross-contamination of cups, they were coated with unrecyclable wax. Today, the knowledge of wood scientists, chemists, food safety specialists, designers, engineers, and many others has been harnessed to produce a paper cup that is recyclable and is being recycled. Over the past few years, in the absence of alternatives to polymeric coatings, there have been further innovations to reduce the amount of the protective polymers used to deliver the safety and functionality we all expect.
In fact, the whole paper industry has seen the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) as providing further stimulus to innovate to both replace and reduce plastics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the complexity of the topics to be addressed by the implementation guidance has delayed its finalization. As a sector, we consider that paper products with a thin layer of coatings, which by their nature are not structural, are excluded from the scope of the Directive.
After all, paper-based packaging uses renewable wood fiber from certified sources, is low-carbon, recyclable and produced in Europe. Moreover, all paper-based packaging combined accounted for 0.27% of the litter found on beaches (which places it in 55th place in the list used to frame the SUPD).
By excluding paper-based packaging from the SUPD guidance, policymakers will support innovation, and enable value chains to invest to improve human and environmental wellbeing. By giving all the eco-systems that are involved in the paper packaging value chain the incentive to innovate the whole of Europe will benefit. New opportunities will be created – and potentially the discovery of new polymer-free coatings which support the green deal agenda.
As I said earlier, our sector has invested in plastic reduction and improved product designs. We want to continue along this path and work across value chains to harness knowledge, ingenuity, and skills in Europe, and to further reduce the amount of polymer needed in order to provide safety and functionality.