Breaking the Mold

Materials scientists believe renewable sources such as bagasse, bamboo, sugar beets and other root vegetables, can eliminate the need for paper pulp in fiber packaging. Image courtesy of CelluComp.

Finding the Solution for All-fiber Bottles

Christian Kemp-Griffin, CEO of CelluComp

For years, numerous consumer brands and molded fiber packaging experts have been experimenting and striving for a more sustainable plant-based bottle solution, and rightfully so. From bottled water, pharmaceuticals and beauty, to food, health and wellness products, the bottle is one of the most widely used designs in product packaging responsible for millions of tons of plastic waste within our ecosystem.

In 2020, the Pew Charitable Trust published a report focused on minimizing plastic pollution. It noted that current government and industry commitments to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in oceans will result in only a 7% reduction by 2040. To accelerate progress, the report includes recommendations on a range of methods to reduce plastic use in products and packaging. It suggests designing recycling-friendly product, expanding waste collection, and improving recycling practices. It also urges manufacturers and brands to use paper and other compostable materials rather than plastics.

In fact, sustainable packaging is projected to grow to $348 billion by 2026 and entire countries, as reflected by Europe’s Green Initiative and by China, are banning single use plastics. In the United States, mills are converting machinery to accommodate demand for alternative packing, while the United Nations has called for the prevention of micro plastics in our oceans and seas as part of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Finding the right solution

Entrepreneurial thinking, new technology and package fabrication are cracking the code to achieve a maximum level of sustainability. Image courtesy of CelluComp.

We all know something must change but finding the right solution – with the right technology and materials, at scale – has been elusive. Advancements such as Carlsberg’s and Jack Daniels’ pulp fiber bottles have pushed the industry in the right direction, but these still demand resources that won’t allow us to get to a maximum level of sustainability.  For example, the need for a plastic liner and the use of wood pulp versus a more cost-effective and widely available feedstock.

To help get us there, more entrepreneurial thinking is required, along with applying new technology and package fabrication that can take creative approaches to this age-old dilemma. And brand managers need to take bold steps that have never been tried before to test their products with new designs that may just hold the key for a ground shift in the industry.

Key to this evolution is successfully activating fiber-based packaging with a water-based coating, offering both performance, recyclability and biodegradability. At the center of this solution is tapping a source material that can be scaled on a global level. A source material that’s highly renewable and biodegradable, lowering our carbon footprint, yet perform at a level equal to other traditional petroleum-based designs.

According to the Danish Technological Institute, the success of this approach will be a pairing a non-permeable barrier with an all-fiber exterior that can safely contain liquids (as well as powders and solids) making the entire package biodegradable, yet from a highly renewable source.

Cracking the code

Cracking the code on the liner coating has been the greatest challenge as most paper pulp demonstrates a phenomenon called “fiber lift” or “dusting” on even the smoothest paper surfaces, whereby individual fibers tear loose and protrude through. This acts in a manner like a straw, pulling liquid into the coating, which then saturates and ultimately breaks down the fiber wall.

The institute is diligently working with new material providers using root vegetable-based fiber substrates and exteriors, removing the risk of fiber lift to provide longer shelf-life. Using highly renewable sources for packaging, such as bagasse, bamboo, sugar beets and other root vegetables, can finally eliminate the need for more intensive materials like paper pulp.

Packaging experts are starting to explore these solutions like never before and a new frontier in molded fiber is right around the corner. It will just take the right partnerships and brands that are comfortable in pushing the boundaries on what hasn’t been done before.

About the Author

Christian Kemp-Griffin was one of the early investors in CelluComp. In 2011 he became chief executive officer and executive director. Since then, Christian has acquired an extensive customer and investor network to support the company and prepare its future growth. He came to CelluComp with extensive operational business experience in the clothing and textile industry and a strong knowledge in brand-building, production and running a social enterprise. Learn more at  www.cellucomp.com.

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