Unpacking a new appliance, grabbing yet another plastic bottle of water from the shelf, franticly shopping for food, party accessories, tons of cups and straws, single use plastic cutlery, “paper” coffee cups, plastic bags, synthetic wet wipes … the world around us is full of single-use plastic designed solely for our comfort. This same comfort has a price though, because our temporary satisfaction negatively affects all non-intelligent species who are not able to read signs like these:
Despite our progress in terms of AI, nanotechnologies and the cosmos, we haven’t yet found a way to communicate the importance of protecting nature from plastic. We haven’t yet invented a language we could use to warn the ocean habitants, that plastic is neither food, nor a toy. We hardly make any effort to change our attitude towards plastic in our daily lives. A change so tiny, yet so important to turning back the path of destruction.
A good part of the 300 million tons of plastic produced in the world every year is used for useful goods with long life span. Very often though, the plastic we use ends up in the wrong place. The Ocean is full of plastic waste that keeps degrading to micro plastic and if nothing changes there will be less fish than plastic in the Ocean by 2050.
Our oceans and our world need new sustainable packaging materials. Now.
Sustainable by Nature
When Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo looked around their bathrooms, they saw the same thing: a problem. Aware of the ever-growing amounts of single-use plastic that fills our lives and seas, they set out to find a solution.
As biochemists specialising in biomaterials, Suvi and Laura came up with a sustainable alternative to plastic.
Sulapac® (named after the founders) is both beautiful and functional. Like nature. It fully biodegrades without leaving microplastics behind. Sulapac® can be processed with existing plastic product machinery, making the switch from conventional plastic to an eco-friendly alternative easier than you might think.
Taken from a Suvi Haimi interview, 2018
# In your opinion, which are the key challenges for a circular economy in Europe?
Suvi: From my point of view, the greatest challenge is the matter of microplastics. It is great that consumers demand more and more ecological solutions even though it is very difficult for them to understand what a truly sustainable choice is. For example, most bio-based bioplastics are not biodegradable. They do not reduce the plastic waste in the nature because when they finally degrade after hundreds of years, they leave microplastics behind. I think we should define materials in a different way, for example dividing them into two groups; microplastic free and microplastic releasing materials. This makes it easy for consumers to choose. This division also allows of clearer definition of the recycling streams of these material groups and including the carbon footprint of the final product. We hope that authorities, especially in the EU, put an emphasis on clarifying for consumers what choice is truly sustainable!
# Suvi, how did you get started and what were the challenges when positioning Sulapac as a waste prevention project?
A sustainable packaging made of wood sounds really exciting. How did you come up with the idea?
Suvi: Laura and I were wondering if there was something we could do to reduce the huge amount of plastic cosmetic packaging in out bathrooms. We are both biochemists specialising in biomaterials, so we started thinking about a way to solve this problem and leave our kids a better, cleaner planet.
Unfortunately, plastic is still the only good packaging option especially when it comes down to liquids
# Can Sulapac compete with the plastic packaging and what are the advantages?
Suvi: The biggest advantages of Sulapac compared to plastic are that it is 100% biodegradable, microplastic free and can be used for liquids. Sulapac is better priced and more durable than other sustainable alternatives; it also biodegrades faster. And it can be processed with existing equipment for plastic.
# The packaging industry is quite big and entering such a market must be tough. What challenges did you face?
Suvi: Consumers already see and understand the big picture. If nothing changes, we’ll have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050 and micro plastic would become a part of the ecosystem. The customer already demands alternatives and this is the reason the “sustainable” packaging is the fastest growing segment of the packaging industry. We were hesitant in the beginning, but we are now convinced technology and materials will improve faster than people imagine. Startups like Sulapac will play a major role as they can now structure and develop innovation much faster . We challenge the big brands to think outside the box, invest in sustainable innovation and become a part of cleaning the world from plastic.
# You are now focused on luxury cosmetic packaging. Why is that? Do you plan to expand to other areas too?
Suvi: We started with cosmetic packaging because most of the premium cosmetic brands are interested in sustainability and nature preservation. We were delighted to see the big brands reaction to the Sulapac material and the time and effort they invested to lead the sustainability movement. The consumer demand for change, for a better, sustainable packaging alternative is the driver here. We’ve already developed food packaging and it is now a part of our portfolio. Our first client, Fazer, is introducing a homemade pralines gift box for Christmas 2018 using Sulapac packaging.
# Let’s talk about you for a moment. What do you do to reduce plastic waste in you daily life, besides developing sustainable packaging alternatives?
Suvi: I try to avoid single use plastic like cups and water bottles and, provided the option, I always buy products in biodegradable packaging. I also choose clothes and products made of reusable and recyclable materials.
After the Covid-19 crisis we know from experience it’s possible to live without the need to constantly consume and harm our planet. Nature made it very clear we are tiny, vulnerable and easy to control when fearing the loss of our imaginary existence.
Sadly, we are not designed to learn our lessons the easy way. And even though there are societies managing small but important steps towards sustainability, most of us keep on going with the flow, making our lives easier, now, rather than thinking about the challenges we create for the future generations.
Packaging, Business, Future
Sustainable packaging is now a top priority for both brands and consumers. Even McDonald’s announced the release of a 100% sustainable packaging by 2025.
Millennials demand more social and eco-friendly brands. Obviously, “eco-friendly packaging” is now more than just a marketing tool. Switching to eco packaging is not an option but a must. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” policy should be applied to our businesses if we care about consumer loyalty. The good news – it will be great for nature too
The number of sustainable packaging projects is going up, the price of innovative packaging is going down and there is no excuse to stick to plastic.