ExpandFibre packaging workshop focused on the growth opportunities of fibre-based packaging solutions

ExpandFibre packaging workshop focused on the growth opportunities of fibre-based packaging solutions

News 26.03.2021

Key experts from the Finnish packaging ecosystem gathered to discuss challenges, opportunities and possibilities for future collaboration initiatives based around innovative and sustainable fibre-based packaging solutions.

The event attracted a group of about 30 participants involving expertise along the entire Finnish packaging landscape – from raw material providers, brand owners and packaging designers all the way to packaging machinery experts.

In the introduction from the host, Markku Leskelä, Vice President of Research and Product Development at Metsä Board, summarised that packaging-related R&D within ExpandFibre focuses on subtopics related to a) new pulp-based and plastic-replacing packaging solutions, b) tools and processes for designing sustainable packaging, and c) barriers and binders based on natural polymers. To accelerate material and packaging related innovations together with Metsä Board’s global customers and technology partners, Metsä Board has newly opened an Excellence Centre located in Äänekoski, Finland. It is a unique innovation hub where co-creation is enabled with state-of-the-art tools and highly skilled personnel.

Ilkka Harju, Packaging Services Director EMEA at Metsä Board continued with a keynote talk focused on the principles of sustainable packaging innovations aimed at combatting climate change, saving precious resources and ensuring the safety of packaged products, essentially creating better experiences for the packaging end-users with less environmental impact.

Identifying the future opportunities of fibre-based packaging solutions for food and pharmaceuticals

Food packaging

The food packaging work group concluded that key properties for an ideal future packaging solution include bio-based raw materials coupled with full recyclability and fully ensured food safety and prolonged product shelf-life. Raw material traceability was also identified as a key parameter. Perhaps the most intensely discussed challenge was related to the barrier properties of fibre-based packaging solutions – how to achieve sufficient barrier properties similar to those of plastics with only fibre materials?

Continued research and development work on bio-based barrier materials will be a key future focus area for the packaging industry to shift away from plastic materials while ensuring product safety. Fibre-based packaging is expected to find major growth opportunities for example within take-away and transportable meals, box packages as well as biodegradable packaging for snacks and sweets. Ideas for future collaborations included, in addition to bio-based barrier development, joint projects involving more members along the packaging value chain – especially raw material providers and key actors in the packaging machinery industry, but also improved consumer communications and understanding. Circular thinking was highlighted by many participants, stressing the need to involve more circularity also for food the packaging sector.

Pharmaceutical packaging

The megatrend of sustainability including recyclability and full raw material traceability were highlighted in the pharmaceutical packaging group as key properties for future ideal packaging solutions. Other identified key properties were understandably fully ensured consumer safety and guaranteed product shelf life enabled by innovative packaging. The workshop group identified many future possibilities for fibre-based packaging in primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging applications within the pharmaceutical packaging value chain. Interesting ideas for future development included the increased usage of small-scale trials enabled by using accredited and GMP approved third party packaging testing partners – much like Foodwest for the food industry.

Many future needs crystallised in workshop to progress to the next steps

As was noted within the numerous discussions during the workshop, this event presented a unique opportunity, even on a global scale, for different players within the packaging landscape to openly discuss underlying challenges and future opportunities for fibre-based packaging in different application areas.

The workshop hosts from Metsä Board would like to express their sincere gratitude for the fruitful discussion, industry insights and innovative ideation to all workshop participants.

The first steps towards collaboration within the packaging value chain that were taken in the workshop will undoubtedly bring about new innovation for fibre-based packaging in different application areas as ExpandFibre progresses.

If you have a collaboration idea related to the topics of the workshop, do not hesitate to be in touch with the Metsä Board team:

Heli Kuorikoski, R&D Laboratory Director at Metsä Board’s Excellence Centre,  heli.kuorikoski@metsagroup.com
Ilkka Harju, Packaging Services Director EMEA at Metsä Board, ilkka.a.harju@metsagroup.com
Leena Yliniemi, Product Management Director at Metsä Board, leena.yliniemi@metsagroup.com
Markku Leskelä, VP Research and Product Development at Metsä Board, markku.leskela@metsagroup.com