Cases: circular design for packaging

Update

We have collected some Circular Design best practices for the plastics and packaging industry. We will update this overview regularly. Want to know more? Let us know!

Bio4Pack - rijststro verpakkingen

Bio4Pack

Challenge

Harvesting and processing rice leaves behind rice straw. To get rid of this straw, the cheapest and fastest way is to burn it on the rice fields. This process creates huge clouds of smog, threatens local biodiversity and evaporates precious water on the rice fields. Farmers ignore these drawbacks for lack of an alternative, since they only have limited time to prepare their land again for new cultivation and they consider rice straw to be useless waste anyway.

At the same time, an increasing amount of plastic packaging is used in the Netherlands to conserve fruit and vegetables better, improve their presentation or keep them together. While consumers and government bodies pay growing attention to the problems created by plastic waste, supermarkets are looking for ways to reduce their use of plastic packaging.

Circular design strategy

Bio4Pack and PaperWise are producing packaging made from rice straw whose properties are identical to pulp or cardboard packaging. Their packaging enables the replacement of plastic dishes with biodegradable dishes that can be recycled through paper collection, both for consumers and for the industry. Dutch technology is used locally, as this packaging is manufactured in the country of origin. Even including transport to the Netherlands, the environmental impact of these products is 75% less than similar plastic packaging.

Circular business model

Rice farmers have an incentive to sell their straw, because burning it is officially illegal and their waste will now be worth money. By selling the material, farmers make nearly 15% more profit on each harvest. As for Bio4Pack, it can expand its range of sustainable packaging with a product which is certified Cradle to Cradle and which has a strong socially sustainable character in addition to demonstrable environmental benefits.

Result & follow-up

Bio4Pack and PaperWise are currently cooperating with rice farmers in Malaysia, whereas they will soon launch a production location in India as well. The packaging is used in the Netherlands by the Ekoplaza organic supermarkets and by regular supermarkets Albert Heijn as well as Jumbo for their organic fruit and vegetables. Germany and Austria also use the rice straw packaging. Since Bio4Pack estimates that its volume of packaging sales will have exceeded 90 million by the end of 2019, it is focused on further expanding its range of products with this material.

"The CIRCO method, in which co-design is quite important and people from different backgrounds are closely working together, fits in well here"
Bart van BolhuisConsul General of the Netherlands in Istanbul
Bioplastic uit aardappelzetmeel

Rodenburg Biopolymers – Bioplastics from potato starch

Challenge

Peeling and slicing potatoes to produce chips results in a by-product: starch. This residual flow serves as a raw material for the production of bioplastics by Rodenburg Biopolymers. Since the bioplastics are both bio-based and biodegradable, the material is suitable for unique applications.

Circular design strategy

The potato starch is combined with other sources of bioplastics. A range of material properties can derive from this combination, such as a different decomposition rate, strength and flexibility. The environmental impact of bioplastics is about twice as low as virgin alternatives based on petroleum. Rodenburg’s portfolio currently comprises 15 bioplastics. After the bioplastic granulate is delivered to customers, they process it into finished products; for example, by injection-moulding, thermo-forming or blowing. Starting to incorporate bioplastics in production is easy for them, as the only change is the processing temperature. The material is biodegradable, so it can be used for unique applications. Autostix applies it to the cultivation of cuttings in horticulture, for example. Bese Elements uses the material for a 3D structure which allows vulnerable ecosystems to recover, such as an artificial reef to restore the growth of oysters in the sea. The plastics degrade into natural substances after about six years.

Circular business model

As a manufacturer of raw materials, Rodenburg sells the bioplastics directly to processors and end customers. Bioplastics often cost around twice as much as virgin plastics. This price prevents many companies from substituting virgin plastics with bioplastics. However, it may also save costs when applied correctly. An example is waste disposal, where the product degrades on its own and hence does not need to be removed.

Result & follow-up

Rodenburg concentrates on selling the material for applications in which its biodegradability is of added value. It also explores other applications such as packaging. In this context, how to organise the discarding phase is an obstacle. The limited volume of bioplastics on the current market means that there is not yet a discarding scenario for consumer waste in which the material can be processed properly.

Seepje

Seepje packaging – FLEX/design

Challenge

Seepje produces detergent, all-purpose cleaner as well as washing-up liquid from Indian and Nepalese super peel. In March 2013, Melvin and Jasper saw on the television how people in Nepal make natural soap from peel of the Sapindus mukorossi fruit. This fruit contains a natural type of soap called saponin, which is released when the peel is in contact with water. They realised that they had the opportunity of offering an immaculate product to western people while improving working and living conditions in Nepal at the same time. A liquid version of the detergents and cleaning agents was developed in addition to the soapnuts, so the desires of Dutch consumers could be met to a greater extent. As this process required new packaging, they got into touch with the FLEX/design office through Generous Minds.

Circular design strategy

The design is based on an old-fashioned bar of soap. From the onset, the design and colour scheme of the bottle took account of both Design for Recycling and the application of recycled materials. FLEX/design searched actively for the right raw material, which initially led to the use of material from recycled HOPE milk bottles in England. A better alternative was later found in the Netherlands via QCP raw material supplier. However, this material had such a high quality that users could hardly tell that the material had been recycled. Due to the rectangular shape, 10–20% more bottles fit on a pallet. Doing away with the traditional handle saves another 10% in materials relative to the contents. As the label has been made from recycled paper and has not been glued, it is easy to remove from the bottle.

Circular business model

The new packaging of liquid Seepjes was launched in early 2017. Offering liquid detergents and cleaning agents in this new packaging has earned Seepje a prominent place on the shelves of Albert Heijn supermarkets. Eleven Seepje product lines are now available in around 1,400 Dutch and Belgian shops. While the recycled materials from QCP cost roughly the same as new materials, they contribute a great deal to the circular brand narrative. Consumers can discard the packaging as plastic waste after use, so it can be recycled again.

Result & follow-up

Supported financially by Stichting DOEN, Seepje is scaling up internationally to Belgium and Germany, among other countries. Meanwhile, its iconic design has won a range of design and marketing awards, such as the Red Dot Design Award, the Pentawards and NL Packaging Awards.

ProLiFeX

ProLiFeX Project – From foil to foil

Challenge

Foil makes up 30–40% of private packaging waste. Only a limited portion of this foil is currently used for high-quality applications. New foil is made from virgin materials, usually LDPE. After Attero, TUSTI, Oerlemans Packaging and Pokon Naturado took part in a CIRCO Track together, Eindhoven University of Technology (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, TU/e) and Dow Benelux joined them to launch the ProLiFeX project. This project seeks to develop a high-quality granulate from the foil flow, which will be applied in the production of new foil. The ultimate goal is to make Pokon’s fertiliser and flower soil packaging from these granules.

Circular design strategy

Attero uses wind shifters and infrared detection to sort foil from private residual waste and plastic waste. This foil is shredded, washed and recycled to granulate. TUSTI and TU/e are involved as knowledge partners to safeguard as well as optimise the quality of the granules. When they analyse Attero’s samples, it can adjust its recycling process to improve the recycled product; for example, by changing the wash water sooner. Oerlemans uses the granulate to blow foil. The purity of the granules is a key factor in blowing high-quality foil. To enhance this quality, the sorting and recycling process has to be optimised, while Dow also applies additives as well as virgin plastics. It is intended to maximise the use of recycled foil for the production of new foil. This aim is easier to achieve for the single-layer foil used in fertiliser packaging with its lower requirements for strength and appearance than for the complex multi-layer foil used in flower soil bags with their higher requirements.

Circular business model

In view of the European Strategy for Plastics and the growing pressure from society, an increasing number of large brand owners have set targets for the use of recycled materials in their packaging. The ProLiFeX project, which has a lead time of 2.5 years, is supported by a grant from the Top Sector Energy (Joint Industry Project) awarded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. Attero will continue to own the granulate that it has developed after the end of the track. It will be brought to market at a quality level and corresponding price which will be a close match for virgin plastics.

Result & follow-up

The parties are currently developing the granules and the foil. Upon completion, Pokon will test the foil in its fertiliser packaging line. If proven successful, a multi-layer foil will be developed as well for the production of flower soil bags with their higher requirements.

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