Even in the EU, where the plastic recycling rate is the world’s highest, only around 40 per cent of plas- tic packaging is recycled. In the US, the same figure is only 13–14 per cent. Unrecycled plastic risks end- ing up in landfills or nature.* In March 2023, PLOS One, a US peer-reviewed sci- entific journal, published a study indicating that hu- mans were filling the world’s oceans with plastic: to date, more than 170 trillion plastic particles have ended up in our oceans. According to the research- ers, this figure is considerably higher than previous estimates. “The lack of infrastructure for plastic recycling is a big challenge, and the recycling of plastic used for food, for example, would require chemical recy- cling, in which the plastic is broken down into mono- mers or oligomer wax. There’s been a lot of talk about chemical recycling, but it hasn’t taken off as expect- ed,” says Anne Uusitalo , Metsä Board’s Product Safe- ty and Sustainability Director. The many lives of paperboard Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of paper and pa- perboard packages are recycled in the EU. In the US, the recycling rate was 68 per cent in 2022 according to the American Forest & Paper Association. In Asia, recycling rates vary by country. Many countries lack functioning packaging and waste leg- islation, and statistics are unavailable. In advanced Asian economies, recycling rates for paper and pa- perboard range from 40 per cent to 85 per cent. “The market for recycled paperboard works well, and recycled material has value,” says Rehtijärvi. The recycling of paperboard packages also supports the circular economy. A study conducted at the Graz University of Technology in Austria in 2021 indi- cated that paperboard could be recycled at least 25 times without losing any of the fibre’s mechanical properties.** “There’s a stubborn belief about recycling that fi- bres degrade quickly, but wood fibres are in fact ex- tremely durable. What causes waste is that part of the fibre gets mixed with the glue and printing ink of packaging,” says Rehtijärvi.
Paperboard packages that are unsuitable for recy- cling due to food residue can be composted. Metsä Board’s paperboards, with the exception of the PE-coated ones, have been granted DIN CERTCO cer- tification, indicating their suitability for industrial composting. In addition, Metsä Board’s Prime FBB EB dispersion barrier board has a certificate in home compostability. Plastic is not always the most lightweight According to Rehtijärvi, people often incorrectly as- sume that an unpackaged product is the most eco- logical. “However, this isn’t the case. The purpose of pack- aging is to protect the product from spoilage, and the carbon footprint of food production, for example, is many times that of packaging,” she says. Another persistent and incorrect belief concerns the weight of paperboard and plastic packaging. Contrary to the common assumption, plastic pack- aging is often no lighter than paperboard packaging. “This incorrect belief is often due to comparisons being made between products that aren’t compara- ble. For example, you may see paperboard packag- es for muesli bars being compared with non-rigid plastic wrapping.” A third misconception concerns recycled and fresh fibres. “The amount of recycled fibre required to package a product is often bigger than that of fresh fibre. And if fossil energy has been used to produce the recy- cled fibre, the environmental impacts may be bigger than those of fresh fibre,” says Uusitalo. Consumers prefer renewable materials Consumers around the world are increasingly criti- cal of plastic packaging. Euromonitor International Ltd’s Voice of the Consumer: Sustainability Survey 2023 revealed that 91 per cent of consumers consid- ered plastic packages to be the most harmful form of packaging for the environment. “In view of the environmental impacts of plastic, it’s vital that companies keep their promise to reduce the amount of single-use plastic,” says Jorge Zuniga ,
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