Across the world, plastics make up 85 per cent of marine litter, posing a major environmental threat. Addressing the issue, the EU last year introduced a ban on certain single-use plastic products, including straws, plates, cutlery and packaging, that can be conveniently replaced with sustainable alternatives. With many Finnish businesses working hard on the development of innovative, nature-inspired materials, the country is well set to become a forerunner in the global fight against marine litter and plastic pollution.
Below are five examples of how Finns are finding new solutions to respond to the plastics challenge.
With its biodegradable and microplastic-free material based on wood pulp and natural binders, Sulapac has been shaking the world of packaging since 2016. Suitable for everything from cosmetics to foodstuffs to jewellery, the eco-friendly material is appealing to businesses also due to the fact that it can be mass-produced using methods and facilities that now make plastic.
The world has sat up and taken notice: Sulapac has completed significant funding rounds, collaborated with leading global brands, been awarded multiple times, as well as been ranked one of Europe’s 100 hottest startups by Wired in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and one of the Nordic startups to watch in 2021 by Sifted.
“We need to replace conventional plastics with truly sustainable alternatives as much as possible,” co-founder and CEO Suvi Haimi said in a recent interview with Forbes. “Sulapac material doesn’t accumulate in the atmosphere or the environment.”
Some 100 billion plastic bags are used every year in Europe alone. This company aims to substitute plastic bags with bags made from a new material based on wood fibre. This is just the tip of the plastic iceberg.
“We have investigated flexible packaging for non-food items such as toys and toiletries; shipping envelopes for e-commerce deliveries; and posters, banners and labels for graphic applications,” CEO Tuomas Mustonen told us a few years ago. “The performance parameters of Paptic, such as flexibility and tear resistance, make it an attractive material for many uses.”
The potential of Paptic’s innovation is truly endless and the material has proved suitable also for dry food packaging. In late 2020, for example, Finnish food industry giant Fazer’s Moomin chocolate drops became the first foodstuff wrapped in Paptic Gavia.
Paptic has been named a “true game-breaker” by Japan’s Itochu Corporation, which acquired a stake in the Finnish company in September last year. According to Mustonen, this deal will help Paptic to fulfil its “ambitious growth vision for the coming years”.
Unsurprisingly, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland makes an appearance on this list. As a sustainable alternative to fossil raw material-derived plastics or wood, VTT has developed a fully bio-based, thermoformable and biodegradable material with excellent colouring properties. Thanks to these characteristics, the material is suited for various manufacturing processes and products, including furniture.
Moreover, VTT is a forerunner in developing new cellulose-based films and coatings, and it has also come up with a unique technology for turning agricultural waste containing pectin, such as orange peel and sugar beet pulp, into a bio-based alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
“In the near future, you may buy orange juice in bottles that are made out of orange peel,” envisioned Holger Pöhler, former professor of practice at VTT. “VTT’s novel technology provides a circular approach to using food waste streams for high-performance food packaging material and at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
This leading producer of premium fresh-fibre paperboards is well known far beyond Finland for its innovative packaging solutions designed with sustainability in mind. A recipient of many international awards, including a Luxe Pack Shanghai Award, and a winner of many packaging competitions, including ScanStar, Metsä Board is promoting innovative design and the use of renewable materials in the packaging industry.
Among the latest packaging solutions introduced by Metsä Board is an easily recyclable and biodegradable carton paperboard-based packaging for La Ratte, a premium potato product by Finland’s Tuorekartano, and a golf ball packaging that converts into an insect hotel for another Finnish company, Golf Coat.
Metsä Board is also among the best in the field, according to EcoVadis, the world’s largest and most trusted provider of business sustainability rankings.
“At Metsä Board, sustainability is an integral part of our strategy and daily operations – now and in the future,” CEO of Metsä Board, Mika Joukio, commented on the results of this year’s study by EcoVadis. “Reaching the full 100 score in the environment section and the leader status in carbon management assessment acknowledges our journey towards fossil-free production and products by the end of 2030.”
Forest-rich Finland is also home to this cleantech company that has been generating international interest with its novel type of wood-based plastic. Endorsed by the professional community, the material is carbon-neutral and made of cellulose extracted from sustainably managed and FSC-certified forests.
Woodly’s packaging material has been tested in selected K Group food shops. As part of the trial, 10 000 Pirkka rose begonia products have been wrapped in the material instead of oil-based plastic. More recently, the company teamed up with Treston to expand its offering to transparent label shields and cross-dividers.
“We’re building the world’s first and most well known packaging materials brand, and five years from now we’ll be a globally recognised packaging materials brand – the first of its kind,” CEO Jaakko Kaminen declared in 2018.