Story | 06/11/2024 13:32:49 | 5 min Read time

Plywood packaging with recycled plastic cuts waste, carbon and costs

Sara Steensig

Editor, Tulus

UPM Plywood switches to 30 per cent recycled plastic for pallet packaging. The thoroughly tested new packaging material reduces carbon footprint and costs for customers.

Over the last decade, plastic waste has more than doubled to 353 million tonnes in 2019, according to the OECD Global Plastic Outlook. It is clear to governments, businesses and citizens that something must be done now to slow down this alarming development. 

As part of the global effort to reduce plastic waste, UPM Plywood introduces a new wrapping for WISA birch panels that are packaged on pallets using transparent plastic film, wood, cardboard and paper labels. Spruce plywood sheets, used mainly in construction and non-visual applications, are simply bound together using plastic straps, already containing 98% recycled plastic. All the packaging materials used for WISA plywood can be recycled or reused

Now, also WISA birch plywood will be wrapped and shipped in partially recycled plastic. The new packaging material is made of 30% post-industrial plastic, recovered from waste generated during manufacturing processes. Not only does it reduce the carbon footprint of UPM Plywood and its customers, but it also saves customers money, as they do not have to pay plastic taxes. 

In the UK, a plastic packaging tax has been in place since the 1st of April 2022, and the EU is preparing a similar duty.  

“Partially recycled plastic packaging is important to the UK customers, as they won’t have to pay tax on it. It simplifies the process and saves them money,” explains UK Sales Manager Joan Bailey.  

According to the British rules, plastic packaging tax is applicable for plastic packaging components manufactured or imported into the UK where the recycled content is less than 30%. Applicable taxes can be over £200/tonne. 

“The customers I’ve talked to are pleased that this is happening because it helps them in their calculations and reduces their tax burden. It is also welcomed and valued by customers operating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) business models,” Bailey notes. 

Thoroughly tested for safety 

On its journey from the mill to the customer, a plywood pallet goes through a lot of handling. The plastic wrapping protects the product from, for example, moisture, but it also protects the people handling the two-tonne pallets at warehouses and ports.  

“If the packaging isn’t strong enough, these heavy pallets are a clear safety threat,” says Senior Buyer Sari Saari. She has, in cooperation with Senior Specialist Katri Karvinen and experts at UPM’s plywood mills, been responsible for testing the partially recycled plastic packaging.   

Puncture resistance and durability during lifting are among the important requirements that have been tested in real-life scenarios, for instance in tilting tests, where a forklift throws a pallet around to make sure that the plastic can withstand rough handling.

 
 

“The wrapping’s most important task is to protect the product and keep it together. It is also important that the partially recycled plastic can be used on the automated packaging lines at the mills without complications,” Karvinen explains. 

UPM Savonlinna Plywood Mill has already started using the new plastic. Thanks to successful tests, UPM Joensuu Plywood Mill will start using the new wrapping material soon too. The aim is that all UPM Plywood mills will be using at least 30% recycled plastic by the end of 2024. 

Although the testing process has been time-consuming, it has been surprisingly smooth, Karvinen and Saari agree. With the necessary processes in place, growing the recyclable content will be easier in the future.

Ready for future legislation

The new packaging saves natural resources and energy. It reduces carbon emissions and waste while promoting circular economy principles. The math behind the emission reductions is pretty straightforward: Using 30% recycled plastic saves roughly 30% CO2 equivalent emissions.  

The current 30% recycled plastic content in the WISA plywood packaging is great news for the many WISA customers in the UK, as it helps them avoid paying the plastic packaging tax. Reducing plastic waste is also on the agenda in the EU, where a new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) – including a tax like the UK’s – is being prepared. 

UPM Plywood will not rest on its laurels: the first tests of packaging with 35% recycled plastic have begun, and the percentage of recycled material is set to grow gradually. Developing packaging containing post-consumer plastic is also on the agenda. 

“In all our sustainability efforts, we strive to anticipate future changes,” says Jaakko Paloheimo, Sustainability Manager at UPM Plywood. Being ahead of the curve is part of UPM Plywood’s ‘Responsibility Made Easy’ promise to its customers. This means investing in responsibility also during financially tough times, Paloheimo stresses.  

“The starting point of our development and actions is a better tomorrow, but the investments must be transferable to the customer's brand. Our goal is always a win-win-win situation for the customer, the environment and us.” 

 
 
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