David J. Cord
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gigantic region where plastics and other debris have been caught in ocean currents. The Pacific isn’t alone, either: this is happening around the world. The problem is that plastic is so convenient that it is hard to stop using it, even though it is bad for the environment. Now, though, a Finnish company might have a solution.
Paptic has patented a revolutionary new fibre product with properties like plastic. It mainly consists of wood fibre but isn’t like paper. It is lighter, more durable and even stretches.
“The business idea of Paptic was originally established as a response to the banning of plastic bags in numerous countries,” explains CEO Tuomas Mustonen. “We wanted to provide an alternative to plastics: the wood-based, recyclable and reusable Paptic material.”
Plastics might break down, but they don’t degrade. Everyone has seen photos of dead sea turtles or albatrosses trapped in plastic, but it is not so easy to see the tiny pieces of plastic eaten by fish. Mustonen points to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that suggests by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. A major cause is single-use plastic bags, which Paptic now seeks to replace.
Plastic Paptic bags
“There are several other materials being proposed as sustainable alternatives to plastics. These include biodegradable plastics, biobased plastics and plastics which have renewable filler. However, most of the competing products are still plastics,” says Mustonen. “Paptic is the only material that successfully combines strength, pleasant usability, high quality appearance and sustainability.”
The company was founded in 2015, but the research behind it has been going on for many years at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Paptic has received financing from the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes* and raised 1.1 million euros in venture capital. It has already run trials with its bags with major retailers such as Seppälä.
“We launched over a half dozen bag campaigns with our partners during 2016,” Mustonen continues. “The feedback from our partners and especially the consumers has been overwhelmingly positive. The consumers like the product and they especially value the change away from plastic bags as a step towards a more sustainable planet.”
About 100 billion plastic bags are used every year in Europe alone. Various ideas have been tried to lower their use, and some have had remarkable success. England introduced a five-pence charge on plastic bags late in 2015 and the number used dropped by 85 per cent. However, bags are only a part of the problem because plastics are used in many different applications.
“The carrier bags are the first application for Paptic material, but we are already investigating a number of other applications,” says Mustonen. “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. The performance parameters of Paptic, such as flexibility and tear resistance, make it an attractive material for many uses.”
Currently production of the Paptic material is limited by the capacity of the pilot plant in Espoo, but they are already planning for the future. Mustonen says they have begun working to increase their production capacity to industrial scale by mid-2018.
*Part of Business Finland since 2018