By Winfried Mühling, General Manager, Pro Carton

Against the backdrop of the COP26 climate change conference earlier this month, European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) has never had more meaning. The thematic focus this year on the circular economy underlines the need to ensure that both individual citizens and wider society are involved and engaged.

It is particularly important to be able to see locally the benefits and advantages of implementing zero-waste and circular economy activity - an initiative that Pro Carton is happy to support. In the context of the EWWR, it was noted that "collaboration is the only key", a circular economy cannot be built in isolation. All organisations and all actors within the value chain, down to consumers and recyclers, need to act thoughtfully to avert the looming threats of climate change.

We know that consumer demand for more sustainable packaging is strong. In our recent consumer survey of 7,000 consumers across Europe, we found that more than 6 in 10 consumers say that the environmental impact of packaging influences their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, in a scenario where the same product was available with either plastic or cardboard packaging, four out of five respondents preferred the cardboard-based format, and only 1 in 10 would prefer the product packaged in plastic. The carton and folding carton industry is seeing a consistent increase in demand from brands across a wide range of sectors to implement the important shift towards more sustainable packaging materials.

Of course, waste reduction comes in many forms and it is important to remember that not all packaging necessarily becomes 'waste'. Very much like us at Pro Carton, EWWR promotes three basic principles - reducing consumption, reusing products and recycling waste.

Although the need to reduce is mainly focused on minimising resources, the importance of packaging and its function in implementing this sustainability initiative cannot be underestimated. When used correctly, packaging increases the shelf life of products and protects them during transport, which is of paramount importance in reducing the problem of food waste. For this reason, fit-for-purpose solutions that are designed to reduce and cause less environmental impact are hugely beneficial. Here, carton is the packaging industry's answer to the circular economy. As the use of carton reduces waste production, it is the perfect example of a functional packaging material that can also be reused and recycled due to its properties.

It is therefore obvious that cardboard packaging is the most sustainable form of packaging. Cardboard packaging is made from renewable raw materials whose use does not deplete the earth's natural resources. The paper fibres used can be recycled 25 times or more. In fact, almost 85% of all paper and cardboard packaging is currently recycled across Europe - a higher proportion than any other packaging material.

While this figure is encouragingly high, in line with the EWWR, we are encouraging brands, governments and consumers to do even more. In our survey research, more than half (58%) of consumers said they now recycle more than they did a year ago, and more than half now buy fewer plastic-packaged products. We want to raise the bar even higher and aim for a 90% recycling rate by 2030. Achieving this will require the active cooperation of retailers and consumers to sort, collect and hand over these valuable materials to recyclers for reuse in cardboard factories.

It is time to learn a valuable lesson from nature; nature wastes nothing and natural recycling takes place in all organic ecosystems that function as a perpetual cycle. Just like the COP26 climate conference, one week is not enough to focus on this important issue. But it is an excellent opportunity to start, especially in terms of raising awareness. Let's use this opportunity as individuals, groups and organisations to practice circular economy and implement awareness raising measures for sustainable resource use and waste recovery together. In doing so, we enable a better future for our planet.


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