Consumers, companies and politicians all share a common concern of environmental impacts of packaging. Despite the great effort that have taken place to improve the recyclability and recycling of packaging materials, large quantity of materials still escapes to nature due to littering. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, University of Vaasa and a large and diverse group of companies are seeking solutions to the littering problem via reuse of packaging. The goal of the work is to keep the packaging materials circulating in such a way that they retain their value from one use to another and never turn into useless waste.
In the 4everPack project initiated by VTT and University of Vaasa, the core focus is on reuse of the consumer packaging in order to lower the environmental footprint of packaging value chain. The project consortia include a large group of companies interested to explore, ideate and utilise reusable packaging solutions: Berner, Borealis, Brightplus, City of Helsinki, HUS, Kamupak, Kesko, Kiilto, Kotipizza, Metsä Board, Nordic ID, SOK, Tomra and UpCode.
Reusable packaging as phenomena is not new. However, reuse is evidently making comeback as a potential option to fight the environmental impacts of packaging. 4everPack aims to bring reuse from past to present.
“It was only some years ago that for example most beverages sold in Finland were packed in re-usable bottles. We believe that by utilising modern technologies allowing traceability of individual packaging we can take the reuse to next level making it considerably safer and more efficient in order to reduce the need for virgin feedstocks, but also to optimise how the value chain, storage and logistics function”, says the project manager Jussi Lahtinen, VTT.
“Packaging is essential part of the modern efficient distribution of food and other consumer goods. Novel solutions to rethink packaging are also a part of the green transition – they combat against climate change by for example reducing food spoilage and reducing littering of the environment through systemic solutions. Digital solutions in packaging context open up completely new opportunities for the sustainable development “, says the project leader, research professor Ali Harlin, VTT .
Consumer acceptance is crucial
The 4everPack project maps out different possibilities to implement reusable packaging into the markets. The project will also produce unbiased research-based information on advantages and disadvantages of the reuse. From research point of view, reuse is very challenging topic to explore and requires cross-disciplinary focus and collaboration.
4everPack project build on the solutions drafted together with the participating companies. Solutions to optimise packaging materials, individualisation and tracing of the packaging together with digital tools, efficient logistics and new business models are all being studied in the project.
“The aim of the project is to produce data that can be utilised by Finnish companies to help them to act as market pioneers in the re-use of packages. To this end, the project will also extensively survey the views of European consumers and their interest in the re-use of packages, while evaluating the applicability of various business models in different markets. An indisputable strength of the project is its multidisciplinary approach, and the consortium that cuts through the value chain”, says Professor Hannu Makkonen at the University of Vaasa.