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We caught up with Ben Gunneberg, CEO and Secretary General of PEFC International who will be presenting at next week's SustPack Asia 2021 online conference.
Q. How do you think consumer attitudes have changed in the context of pandemic?
I think people are really beginning to reconnect with nature. With so many of us having to stay inside during the many pandemic lockdowns, escaping outside and walking in the forest is associated with health and wellbeing more than ever before.
There has been a rise in conscious consumption as we become more aware of how our decisions effect the planet. We are now more mindful of what we are buying, striving to limit our waste, and looking for more sustainable options. As people have been ordering more online resulting in an increase of shipping packaging, the awareness around packaging waste is high. For example, a recent study found that consumers are looking for products and packaging made from natural and renewable materials. *
This means consumers are increasingly calling on brands to take greater responsibility for the environment, which is something PEFC certification can help them with.
*Source: Pro Carton European Consumer Packaging Perceptions study. 7000 consumers. Coleman Parkes Research
Q. The pandemic has obviously impacted the packaging industry, what are some of the most important impacts that you are already seeing?
Contrary to what was feared, Covid has not diverted large consumer goods companies from their sustainability targets. Deforestation remains a major issue, and at PEFC we have been working with global organisations to provide a tool to help them reach their zero deforestation targets. Take the Consumer Goods Forum, who we work with on their Forest Positive Coalition roadmap, which ensures that various commodities, including pulp used in packaging, are not causing deforestation.
As brands and retailers look to demonstrate their sustainability progress, packaging suppliers will be required to provide full transparency on the origin of the materials, with certification well placed to provide an accessible and proven tool to enable this.
We can look at Circle K for a great example of this. As part of their European Packaging Project, the use of sustainable packaging, without reducing food quality, is a priority for the company. In response, they require that paper-based packaging must be made from certified material. This is communicated to their customers by labelling the packaging with commonly recognized sustainability labels, such as the PEFC label.
Q. What are some of the biggest opportunities gaining attention within the packaging industry? What is PEFC's role in supporting these changes?
The clear shift plastic to paper-based materials is a huge opportunity for the industry, and PEFC has an important role is supporting and enabling this change.
Material choices play a fundamental role in designing sustainable packaging and many PEFC-certified packaging manufacturers are investing in R&D for sustainable innovation. Packaging made from wood fibres is sustainable, recyclable, and good for humans and the environment. It can be reused without causing contamination or waste management problems, and as a renewable material, wood fibres are available in perpetuity.
Increased demand for fibre-based packaging has led to the expansion of sustainable forest management and increased awareness of the importance of sourcing from sustainably managed forests for a sustainable packaging industry.
At PEFC, we work to protect our forests by promoting sustainable forest management through certification. PEFC provides the assurances that certified forests are sustainably managed and ensures that forest-based products reaching the marketplace have been sourced from sustainably managed forests.
Through chain of custody and the label, PEFC enables businesses within the packaging industry to not only choose wood fibres from a sustainable source, but also to demonstrate this choice to their customers. Transparency will be the new norm across businesses, and packaging plays in important role in providing information by using eco-labels, such as the PEFC label.
Q. How do you think COVID-19 will impact the packaging industry?
Given the increase of packaging use during Covid and as part of waste management, governments are focusing on recycled content and recyclability of materials. PEFC certification caters for recycled materials and we consider it an important tool to help reduce pressure on forest resources.
Q. What does your organization hope to achieve over the next 5 years with regards to the future of packaging industry?
PEFC offers the largest source of certified-forest fibres in the world, yet with only 13% of the world’s forests certified, we need increased market demand to motivate more forests owners to manage theirs forests sustainably and become certified. In the next five years, we look to achieve an increase in this number, ensuring more of our forests are managed sustainably and able to provide the materials needed for a sustainable packaging industry.
We believe that collective synergies are required to protect our forests. This is why we do not work alone, but instead form partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders around the world, enabling us to amplify our collective impact.
Certified, sustainably sourced packaging material as the new norm will help us to protect our forests and increase forest protection globally for generations.
Q. How do you expect to see the recycling infrastructure change in Asia in the next few years?
While countries are struggling with their own waste, bans of waste imports, as seen in China, are efforts to clean the environment and improve quality of life. National waste management will push for stronger legislation, providing a preference for products that are safer to both humans and the environment.
For recycling to happen it requires three main elements: consumer behaviour, having the right infrastructure in place and material revalorization. To enable waste from homes to transit to factories and be transformed for a second life, consumers need to split their waste into the appropriate domestic infrastructure which is then collected by the industrial infrastructure. This requires investment from governments and local councils, private innovation, as well as education leading to behavioural changes. This is a big opportunity for circular economy. Whilst PEFC has no expertise in this matter, it is important to advance the recycling capacity to reduce pressure on fresh forest fibres.
Q. What do you think will be some of the most interesting advancements in materials or packaging types in the near future?
Difficult for us to say, but many PEFC-certified pulp and packaging companies are investing resources in R&D for sustainable innovation both in terms of biomaterials used and designing with circularity in mind. More and more fossil fuel-based materials can now be made from renewable forest-based materials from a sustainable resource and that trend in innovation will dramatically continue as companies pledge to move to net zero carbon as using wood fibre based packaging contributes to reducing a company’s CO2 emissions and its CO2 footprint.
Q. Your presentation at this year’s Sustainability in Packaging Asia will cover Renewable, Recyclable and Responsibly-Sourced. What are the Benefits of wood-based fibre packaging? Why is it important for others in your industry to hear this message? What are some of the key take-aways?
Forests are the largest source of natural, renewable materials for packaging on a large scale, providing they are managed sustainably.
PEFC certification helps packaging companies demonstrate that they are sourcing fibre-based raw materials from well-managed forests to produce their packaging. This enables them to differentiate their products in the marketplace and gain recognition for their commitment to sustainable sourcing.
Retailers and brand owners can execute their forest-based packaging policy and achieve 100% sourcing from certified origins by choosing PEFC certified products.
Companies are reducing risks by ensuring pulpwood is sourced from certified legal sources and sustainable forest operations.