Story | 06/25/2024 07:41:13 | 6 min Read time

Makers of the world beyond: What is the biggest challenge in the packaging industry at the moment? What makes you hopeful?

We asked these two questions from three packaging experts. This is what they had to say.

 

“It’s the designers’ job to make sustainable packaging irresistible”

  • Matleena Liukkonen is a packaging design student at LAB University of Applied Sciences.
  • In 2023 Matleena’s team won LAB and UPM’s Sustainable Design Challenge with their Hangry Boy frozen pizza package.
  • Background: “This is my second degree. I worked as a nurse for about seven years, but I’ve always had this weird passion for packages and thought it would be cool to design them.”
  • Design philosophy: “I’m especially interested in packaging structures. I want to make packages that are as easy to use as possible and use as little and as sustainable materials as possible.”

1. What do you think is the biggest sustainability challenge in the packaging industry at the moment? 

What I think is the biggest problem in the packaging industry is the very same thing that gives me hope: people. Before design studies I worked as a nurse. I have noticed that in both sustainable packaging design and nursing, people want easy and quick solutions. We want to take that one pill that would fix everything. Of course, easy and quick solutions don’t exist. Every product and every packaging needs to be carefully considered separately.

People don’t buy products in sustainable packages just because they’re made of sustainable material. It is the designers’ job to make them irresistible. 

2. What makes you hopeful?

I feel like I’m entering the field of packaging design at a significant time. Sustainability plays a major role in all our courses and student projects. It is also a topic that gets covered in each and every keynote speech at industry events, webinars and trade fairs. It is a problem that is taken very seriously and that gives me hope.  

There are also ambitious material innovations being developed and I’ve been privileged to have had a chance to work with a few of them. For example, I recently got to experiment with a very exciting cellulose-based material that could replace Styrofoam. 

 
 

“Instead of focusing on visual appeal, I start by defining user needs and objectives"

  • Marta Suslow is an innovation manager and service designer.
  • Marta’s designs include e.g. a Nivea shower gel refill station, a patented butter packaging and digital platforms for learning and public participation developed with the United Nations.
  • Background: “Living in Poland, my grandparents experienced a time when resources were scarce. Their emphasis on recycling and reusability challenged my own thinking and behavior and shaped my values.”
  • Design philosophy: “My experience in digital service design shapes how I approach packaging design. Instead of just focusing on visual appeal, I start by defining user needs and objectives.”

1. What do you think is the biggest sustainability challenge in the packaging industry at the moment? 

Recycling has been emphasized for too long as a golden solution, while there is a lack of research on understanding human behavior and systemic thinking. Recycling should only be considered as a last resort.

While the European Union has many people working on the legislation bit, it lacks designers, engineers, and chemists working on common, creative solutions: We must examine packaging formats, implement regulations to establish a harmonized standard for each product category and packaging type. Imagine there’s one kind of takeaway package you can pick up and return to any store, restaurant or else because it’s the same everywhere, it would be so convenient. And people – let's be honest – love convenience.

2. What makes you hopeful?

The sustainability movement within academia fills me with hope. There is this surge of highly promising startups, and they attract significant investments from venture capital. A great example of this is PulpaTronics, which develops metal- and chip-free intelligent barcode tags that are made of fully recyclable paper.

Young people are networking globally with exceptional skill, breaking down barriers between disciplines and research topics. At university labs they can go crazy, and don’t need to care about the political side of things, so they can really focus on finding solutions.

 
 

“Today all packaging is expected to be designed for recycling”

  • Robert Taylor is a Sustainability Director at UPM Raflatac.
  • Robert has worked 30 years for UPM in various senior global sustainability positions.
  • Background: “My background is in forestry. I graduated in the 1990’s when sustainable forestry was just starting. Environmental and social responsibility was hardwired into me back then already.”
  • Design philosophy: “Today all packaging is expected to be designed for recycling as part of the drive towards a low carbon circular economy.”

1. What do you think is the biggest sustainability challenge in the packaging industry at the moment? 

Climate change and pollution have started to visibly affect communities. The impacts we’ve known for decades are becoming real and society is trying to respond. Resource scarcity also starts to become concrete. We also have the rise of consumers who are making concrete choices for sustainability. Together these trends are really starting to shift packaging design. 

We’re lucky to be able to help our customers in that shift. As a biomaterials growth company UPM develops solutions for a future beyond fossils. For example, UPM Raflatac’s Ocean action label helps prevent plastic entering rivers and oceans, Forest Film promotes using natural renewable alternatives to fossil-based plastic and the carbon action label drives down the carbon footprint and scope 3 emissions. Our RafCycle service allows customers to send their label waste back to us and Label life service helps brands make more sustainable choices based on a credible life cycle assessment. We try to help.

2. What makes you hopeful?

It helps to have been in this business for a long enough time to have seen the change that has and is taking place. In 1999, I was hired into the very first UPM Forest environment team in Finland. We were three persons and I think we were seen mostly like activists and tree huggers inside the company. Still, those who had the vision to hire us knew how critical an issue sustainability was to become and we soon started to generate business value. 

In the beginning getting five minutes of time with senior management was a hard push. Nowadays it's flipped. We are fully integrated into the business strategy; we ARE part of senior management and sustainability is one of the key performance indicators upon which the whole business is measured. It’s a very different game to even five years ago. I do believe, step by step, that we will get the circular economy moving and decarbonise our society. We just need to move forward faster.

 
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