2 April 2019

“Circular economy is so much more than new materials, packaging and sorting” – Q&A with CIRC-PACK’s Bumaga

A small-and medium-sized enterprise in the Netherlands, Bumaga is a key player in the CIRC-PACK consortium. But although Bumaga is a fully-owned subsidiary of the Royal Dutch Association of Paper and Board Mills, the company is nevertheless engaging with the plastics industry in the field of circular economy. CIRC-PACK caught up with Bumaga project leader Henrike Holwerda to find out why it makes sense for paper and plastics industries to work together.

Bumaga is a key CIRC-PACK partner from the Netherlands, but it’s not in the plastics industry. Tell us how Bumaga became involved in this project?

Bumaga has worked on multiple European projects in the past. Prior to this one we connected with (CIRC-PACK project partner) AITIIP during a bio-based industries partnering event. As the CIRC-PACK project was in the proposal stage, AITIIP were looking to have partners from other sectors involved.

Being involved in CIRC-PACK gave Bumaga the opportunity to learn a great deal from developments in the plastics industry – developments that possibly impact the paper industry as well.

What are Bumaga's main activities in the field of circular economy?

Bumaga is very active when it comes to circular economy, since circularity was introduced in the paper industry many years ago. Through circularity, we can ensure the quantity and quality of the main input for our processes, namely paper for recycling. At the same time, we are monitoring trends in the market and recyclability is, of course, currently a hot topic. We are responding to that by guiding packaging producers in design for recyclability and by offering solutions that are suited to the paper recycling process.

Finally, CO2 emissions are high on our agenda. Like other businesses, paper and board mills are facing new challenges regarding energy consumption. Bumaga for example supports the mills in reducing their CO2 emissions; for example by optimising the drying process or by educating them to take on a value chain approach.

Tell us about Bumaga's involvement in the CIRC-PACK project. Why is your role so important?

Bumaga is aware of the challenges that the plastics industry is facing, not only through CIRC-PACK but also through our everyday activities. Packaging producers are increasingly replacing their plastic packaging with paper-based alternatives. This means that more and more multimaterial packaging is marketed – and this also ends up in our recycling processes. The alternatives, however, are barely recyclable within the current common collecting, sorting and recycling systems.

The Netherlands as well as the paper industry in general are frontrunners when it comes to recycling. Therefore, there are benefits to be had from our industry’s experience, and we can transfer knowledge to the CIRC-PACK project. Combining these two sectors (paper and plastics) makes sure that the problems are not simply shifted to other sectors, but integrally solved.

Can you update us on the status of the CIRC-PACK ‘Demo Case’ led by Bumaga: Demo Case B - producing ecodesigns?

In collaboration with our CIRC-PACK partners, Demo Case B involves the production of two eco-designs. Firstly, a multi-material packaging is developed; a detergent box which consists of board and plastic. This design aimed for recyclability in the paper recycling process and was tested with positive results. Secondly, a multilayer packaging is developed; a film seal for trays (of fresh chicken) which consists of multiple layers of plastic. This design is aimed at biodegradability and compostability. The separate components were also tested with positive results and it is expected that the multilayer as a whole will be biodegradable and compostable. Over the coming months, the prototypes will be validated by real consumers.

What is the biggest challenge for Bumaga when "ecodesigning" multi-material or multilayer packaging products?

Multi-material packaging and multilayer packaging usually have a reason for being constructed as they are. The products that are enclosed need protection against influences from the environment, such as oxygen and moisture. The barriers against these influences cannot always be provided by a single material. Therefore, multiple layers of different materials need to be combined in the packaging, which always limit the packaging’s circularity.

Multimaterials will never be ideal in a circular economy, even when being eco-designed. Besides, current market is not ready yet for complex materials. Consumers do not recognise these kind of materials and are confused about how to dispose of them. Current collection, sorting and recycling systems are equipped for monomaterials only.

Where do you think the CIRC-PACK project can grow in the context of European initiatives towards a circular economy? Will our innovations take off elsewhere?

Great hopes have been pinned on the demo cases and I can see why. The demo cases are the means to show the applicability of the CIRC-PACK project in real life. However, I think that circular economy is so much more than introducing new materials, new packaging and new sorting systems in the market. When consumers do not have any interest in these innovations, when organisations are not willing yet to collaborate, when the government is not creating the right legislative climate, these innovations go nowhere. And in my opinion that is one of CIRC-PACK’s strengths: all barriers and drivers for the circularity of the plastic packaging value chain are addressed during the project.