Navigating the Post-COVID Reality: A World of Deliverable Packages—But How Sustainable Is It?

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, the importance of sustainable and consumer-centric packaging solutions has gained significant attention across industries, with the food sector at the forefront of this movement. Companies like Stora Enso, General Mills, and Supaso have taken center stage in driving innovation and adopting responsible practices to meet the growing needs and expectations of consumers. Their commitment to reducing carbon footprints, addressing food waste, and promoting regenerative agriculture exemplifies the industry’s push towards more environmentally conscious and socially responsible packaging solutions. As global challenges related to climate change and resource scarcity intensify, these transformative initiatives stand as crucial steps toward a more sustainable and efficient food system.

Tiina Pursula, senior vice president of sustainability with Stora Enso, highlights the importance of a holistic approach to food system transformation, stating, “Our food systems play a crucial role in securing a circular, biodiversity-and climate-positive future.” The company believes in strengthening food system sustainability by capitalizing on various opportunities, such as supporting healthy diets, minimizing food loss, and exploring new compostable or waste-based materials.

“We’re also firmly focused on the positives, working day in and day out to innovate.” –Tiina Pursula

Stora Enso’s commitment to sustainable packaging is deeply ingrained in its fiber-based packaging solutions. Within this context, the department of innovation, research, and development, underlines the essential requirement for collaborative efforts among stakeholders to initiate transformative change. Pursula states, “We hold the hope that the insights presented in this white paper will ignite and further enhance the indispensable cooperation among stakeholders, thereby translating our propositions into tangible outcomes.” With a primary focus on renewable foundational materials, recyclability, and safeguarding food hygiene, fiber-based packaging emerges as a pivotal facilitator of sustainable food systems.

Food waste remains a significant challenge in the global food system, and General Mills is determined to play a leading role in its reduction. Dr. Steve Rosenzweig, senior soil scientist at General Mills, shares insights into their regenerative agriculture program, stating, “Interest in regenerative agriculture is extremely high in each of our three pilot regions.” The company’s commitment to zero-waste-to-landfill criteria across its production facilities has yielded impressive results. General Mills is constantly innovating and analyzing ways to further reduce waste in its operations, with a focus on zero loss culture, innovation, and capital projects. By actively managing their manufacturing processes and collaborating with food bank partners, General Mills successfully diverts surplus food from the waste stream. 

“Interest in regenerative agriculture is extremely high in each of our three pilot regions.” –Steve Rosenzweig

General Mills made a resolute commitment to sustainably source 100% of its ten priority ingredients by the end of 2020. While the company has made commendable progress, achieving 91% sustainability for the top ten ingredients in fiscal 2019, there remain some challenges, particularly with regard to vanilla sourcing where it was found during fiscal 2019, that it doubled sustainable vanilla purchases despite ongoing market volatility and geopolitical instability.

According to General Mills, up to one-third of greenhouse gasses stem from the food system, with an estimated 80% coming from agriculture. Dr. Rosenzweig elaborates on their efforts, stating, “One of the program’s design elements is connecting farmers through social media and discussion groups, as we believe farmers learn best from other farmers, and we’ve seen mixed success.” General Mills continues to explore ways to optimize their regenerative agriculture initiatives through feedback from farmers.

General Mills’ dedication to reducing food waste extends to its production facilities, where 12 facilities have already met zero-waste-to-landfill criteria by the end of 2019. Curelli explains their ongoing efforts, stating, “We’ll reset our baseline and analyze where we will have the most impact to reduce waste in our operations, focusing on our current work in zero loss culture, innovation, and identify capital projects that will specifically help achieve this goal.”

In the field of sustainable packaging innovations, companies like Supaso—led by co-founder Fabian Gems—are driving transformative advancements in conscientious and pioneering practices. Gems, unveils Supaso’s revolutionary methodology involving upcycled paper and cardboard for thermal insulation layers. Anchoring Supaso’s mission is an unwavering commitment to sustainability. Gems elaborates, “We’re deeply ingrained in cardboard solutions, crafting thermal underwear for packaging through repurposed paper and cardboard. Our insulation layers, comprising 99% paper, are fully recyclable. Our process remains entirely waterless and chemical-free, eschewing the need for oil or gas.”

“Our goal is to create a zero-waste loop where the packaging always comes back to us, allowing for continuous engagement and product development.” – Fabian Gems

The company’s eco-dedication extends to photovoltaic-generated power, capitalizing on Austria’s sun-rich locale. “We prioritize recycled paper to minimize our ecological footprint,” Gems underscores. Moreover, Supaso’s commitment to innovation is multifaceted. Research and development endeavors have birthed novel prototypes, utilizing repurposed paper and cardboard for diverse applications like soundproofing and cushioning. This evolution underscores Supaso’s resolute drive to redefine sustainable packaging’s horizons.

Supaso’s process involves a mechanical procedure with airflow, enabling the transformation of discarded paper into thermal insulation. “We use different forms of pressure and airflow to shape the material, creating an efficient and sustainable insulation product,” Gems explains. Their thermal packaging solution also incorporates craft paper skin, developed in partnership with Mondi, a leading player in the paper industry. This outer layer ensures the packaging remains food safe while maintaining its 100% paper recyclability.

Addressing the challenges of recyclability and biodegradability, Gems remarks, “We strive to make paper recyclable. Our goal is to create a zero-waste loop where the packaging always comes back to us, allowing for continuous engagement and product development.” He highlights that their thermal packaging can be repurposed up to 25 times, making it a highly sustainable alternative. As for the future, Supaso envisions a transformative model for their machinery. Gems explains, “Our machine operates as a service model, which can be utilized by big producers, retailers, and fulfillment centers. They can use our insulation material, creating a zero-waste, zero-emission process that utilizes discarded paper and cardboard.”

In its pursuit of a circular economy, Supaso has been collaborating with local recycling facilities and waste management organizations to streamline the collection and repurposing of used packaging materials. This partnership-based approach aims to establish a closed-loop system where Supaso’s packaging products are returned, reprocessed, and reintegrated into new packaging solutions. This not only reduces waste but also reinforces Supaso’s commitment to creating a sustainable and self-sustaining ecosystem.

Supaso’s efforts in sustainable packaging have garnered recognition from academia and industry alike. The company has been actively participating in research initiatives with universities, contributing to studies focused on the environmental impact of packaging materials and potential solutions for reducing waste in the supply chain. By leveraging their expertise and collaborating with academic institutions, Supaso is playing a pivotal role in advancing the knowledge and practices of sustainable packaging, further solidifying their position as an industry leader in responsible and forward-thinking solutions.

The integration of sustainable packaging practices not only benefits the environment but also resonates with consumers, who increasingly prioritize eco-friendly products. As packaging plays a central role in meeting evolving needs and expectations, companies like Supaso, with their focus on responsible materials and circularity, set an example for the entire industry to follow.

Progressing ahead, it is evident that sustainable packaging is no longer a mere trend but a necessity. With the collective efforts of companies, consumers, and policymakers, the food industry can continue to make significant strides towards a more sustainable and efficient future. The path to a greener world lies in the collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders, and the initiatives led by Supaso and its industry peers serve as a beacon of hope for a better tomorrow.

Gems’ drive is profoundly personal, as he shares, “I have two little children, and I want them to experience the same safe and green environment I grew up in, or even better.” This heartfelt sentiment permeates Supaso’s core values, fueling their pursuit of innovation, inspiration, and lasting change that will leave a positive legacy for generations to come.


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