Innovation Day 2019

26/03/2019 | 4 min read
Theresa Wieser

In March, Greiner Packaging held its seventh Innovation Day event in Oberwaltersdorf, Austria, with the theme “Transitioning to a circular economy. Are you ready?” Some 200 guests from 15 countries attended the event, which addressed the challenges and opportunities presented by a circular economy in the plastics sector.

Greiner Packaging CEO Manfred Stanek kicked off the event with a recap of developments in recent months. He noted that there has been a lot of activity related to plastics at EU level and predicted an increase in rules and requirements in the months ahead too. But Stanek also said that, even though plastics are being widely criticized right now, their production is at an all-time high. He believes that the amount of packaging will also continue to rise due to population growth and the expansion of the middle class around the world. For this reason, he said, the industry would need to take on even greater responsibility. Stanek emphasized that it was time for the entire value chain to work together and play its part. 

Six experts, six insights into the industry

Daniel Cronin, co-founder of AustrianStartups, was the host of Innovation Day, which centered on talks from six industry experts. Thomas Reiner, founding member and CEO of consulting firm Berndt+Partner, discussed his thoughts on the future of the packaging business and put forward the view that sustainable packaging will require new materials and new structures. Reiner emphasized that the effort of each and every individual will be necessary in order to attain a positive outcome. Jim Armstrong,  Member of Management Committee at Plastics Recyclers Europe, stressed that the transition to a circular economy could only be achieved through teamwork. He said that efforts to boost the recyclability of plastic packaging needed to start at the design level. To this end, Armstrong presented the “RecyClass” tool, which can be used to analyze packaging and optimize its recyclability. Pavel Komurka, Packaging Innovation – Sustainability Coordinator at Norwegian conglomerate Orkla, gave a report from the perspective of the branded goods company. Komurka confirmed that plastics would continue to play a key role at Orkla in the future but said the decisive factor would be how they were handled. He stressed that packaging would not only need to be recyclable, but would also ideally be produced from recycled material in the first place. Komurka noted that, while Orkla has already set itself ambitious goals in this area, there is still much work to be done. In his presentation, Jürgen Priesters, Business Development Director at TOMRA Systems, focused on waste sorting methods. He noted that, while garbage collection already functions superbly in Europe, recycling currently falls short primarily due to a lack of precision in how the materials are sorted. Achieving unmixed material streams is impossible at present, according to Priesters, which means that far too much plastic packaging ends up in nonrecyclable waste. He also sees packaging design as the starting point for better recycling outcomes. Josef Simon, Director of Production and Technology at NÖM AG, stressed that packaging still needs to protect the product while also offering all the necessary characteristics that enable it to be recycled. He made the point that, while reducing the consumption of plastics and materials was a top priority at his company, it was important to remember the basic function that packaging needs to fulfill. Manfred Tacker, Head of Sustainable Management of Resources at FH Campus Vienna, also emphasized the important role that modified packaging designs would play in a successful circular economy. He noted that every country has different regulations and that there are no fixed standards to specify which items can or cannot be recycled – which makes it difficult for global companies to assess recyclability. Tacker explained that, together with partners, he has developed guidelines for this purpose that can be used as a reference when developing packaging. 

Panel discussion: Is a circular economy a real chance or just a dream?

During the panel discussion that followed, attendees discussed the likelihood of a circular economy actually achieving success. Manfred Stanek stressed the industry’s responsibility in this regard and stated that it has the necessary expertise to make a difference. Jim Armstrong agreed that the industry needed to step up by offering consumers assistance – shifting the responsibility to individuals wouldn’t work. According to Jürgen Priesters, the plastics industry needs to promote the benefits of recycled materials. He noted that many companies are still wary of utilizing these materials as they have a poor reputation in terms of appearance and odor. Priesters also suggested that Europe’s collection system should be overhauled because too many different sorting options would only cause confusion. Manfred Tacker, however, highlighted the fact that global warming would be the key topic of the years ahead and that the circular economy is just one aspect of many that need to be taken into consideration.

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