Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know about the mountains of plastic waste clogging up the world’s landfills and finding its way into the rivers and oceans. The environmental damage caused by this waste has reached a critical juncture. Pressure is mounting to come up with feasible, environmentally friendly substitutes for single-use plastic in packaging that contains, protects and prolongs the life of food and other products.
In October 2018, the European Parliament approved a ban on a list of single-use plastic products, with another host of plastic products slated for reduction without a complete ban. The future is potentially dazzling for companies that can provide convincing alternatives to plastic in large enough quantities and at an affordable price. Finland is home to several companies with their eyes on that prize. One of the best known is Sulapac, producers of an innovative packaging material of the same name. They make convincingly sustainable claims; they use wood grown in managed Nordic forests.
“Sulapac’s biggest advantage compared to plastic is that it is 100 percent biodegradable and microplastic-free,” says CEO and cofounder Suvi Haimi. “Sulapac outperforms other sustainable alternatives in terms of biodegradation speed, carbon dioxide footprint, barrier properties and unique appearance.”
Sulapac’s cosmetics containers are made out of a plastic-free, wood-based, biodegradable material that manufacturers can use with their existing machinery.
“Plastic manufacturers can use their existing machinery with the material, so only minimal investments are needed,” says Haimi. “Sulapac solutions are oil-, water- and oxygen-resistant, and all biodegrade fully without leaving microplastics behind.” Big brands, especially in cosmetics, are expressing interest in Sulapac materials, although the early champions of the material have been smaller Finnish brands. Niki Newd and Atopik are two companies that sell their skin products in Sulapac packaging.
“Eventually consumers drive the change and demand better sustainable alternatives, so I believe forerunner brands will be the winners,” she says. “We have already expanded our portfolio to foodstuff, and others will follow. Our first foodstuff customer is Fazer in Finland. We are also expanding beyond packaging, as converters can use our material with their existing machinery to create toys, consumer electronics or hygiene products, for example.” Some consumers face difficulties in understanding what makes a truly sustainable product, she says. “For example, most biobased plastics are not at all biodegradable and release microplastics that will eventually end up in our bodies. Our thinking is that we should redefine materials and split them into microplastic-free and microplastic-releasing, to make it easy for consumers to choose. We want authorities, especially the EU, to emphasise to consumers what makes a truly sustainable choice.”
Sulapac sees itself as keeping ahead of the game. “We believe that our patented material and its manufacturing technology have a lead of between one and two years over main competitors,” says Haimi. “All competition is good, as it accelerates the development of the industry.” She is upbeat about the future of her company: “I have always encouraged people to be open to new technologies, as they develop way faster than we think and have totally new potential to save this planet from plastic waste.”