Recycling fiber-based food packaging in Europe

Recycling fiber-based food packaging in Europe
Throughout the past year, global media has repeatedly highlighted growing concerns over the environmental impact of packaging material. If we continue with the current linear business models – take-make-waste – insufficient raw material resources, and an increased amount of waste and its negative impact on the environment become a serious problem. Whether it is the plastic material, damage to the aquatic fauna, or the impact on the food chain, these topics resonate for each of us as a consumer. As packaging is really part of our everyday life, a more efficient use of our resources is needed.
To act upon those concerns, the EU circular economy action plan includes a comprehensive package of policy tools that promote recyclability of products. There are two different routes for recycling depending on how the packaging was used:
Organic recycling: since paper is biodegradable, fiber-based post-consumer packaging can be recycled organically in home or industrial composting if it is contaminated with food waste. In this method, packaging biodegrades and eventually composts back into the earth.
Stream recycling: If the food packaging is recyclable according to the recycling standard EN13430 and is not contaminated after use, it can be put in the standard paper recycling stream.
“Fiber-based materials are made from wood which is a renewable and recyclable resource; therefore they are circular by nature,” explained Anna Bergquist, Executive Vice President, Strategy, Sustainability and Innovation of Sustainability for Ahlstrom-Munksjö. “During the recycling process, fiber-based materials are re-pulped to individualize the fibers and produce new material.”
Although there are standards for recycling, some roadblocks exist in achieving the circular economy targets due to little harmonization in recycling streams across Europe.
To resolve these challenges, the 4evergreen alliance was recently created. This European, cross-industry alliance of which Ahlstrom-Munksjö is a member, aims to boost the circularity of fiber-based packaging. 4evergreen advocates for EU legislation to support product design for recyclability and calls for the development of optimized collection systems and appropriate recycling infrastructures. Brands and retailers have also made commitments to more sustainable packaging options, and therefore are seeking high-performance fiber-based solutions with the level of performance that is required for their applications.
Functional properties such as barriers or sealability are needed for some food packaging applications and require the fibers in the packaging be treated or combined with non-fiber based materials, making it more challenging to fit in recycling streams. A key role of food packaging is to protect the food until its consumption and to reduce product and food waste.
As a global leader in fiber-based materials, Ahlstrom-Munksjö is committed to developing innovative and sustainable solutions and moving the paper packaging industry towards a more circular economy. By working in close connection with the entire food packaging supply chain, in addition to the waste management stakeholders, we can better define and achieve the needed functionality for packaging while still creating a recyclable solution.
We offer our customers a wide range of recyclable products that can be converted into recyclable food packaging, like transparent window bread bags, fruit and vegetable wrapping papers, popcorn bags and more recently straw papers, which can replace plastic straws.
Suitable for organic recycling, Ahlstrom-Munksjö manufactures products such as butter wrap, baking paper, cheese wrapping paper, fast food wrapping, lid for compostable coffee capsules, or even release liner used for fruit labeling.
We believe we are at the forefront of this exciting journey. We have only seen the beginning of what fiber-based materials and solutions can create.
From all of us at Ahlstrom-Munksjö, Happy World Recycling Day!