Innovative packaging concepts
22 Feb 2021
Innovative packaging concepts: Why a reuse system is the most sustainable solution
Peter Désilets, Managing director and founder at pacoon GmbH
Interview with ProSweets partner PACOON, Germany's leading agency for packaging design and sustainable packaging solutions.
Peter Désilets is Managing Director and Co-founder of pacoon GmbH, based in Munich and since January 2018 also with an office in Hamburg. PACOON is Germany's leading agency for design and sustainable packaging.
The company has been following developments in sustainability for over 10 years and organised the 'SOLPACK - International Conference for Sustainable Packaging' four times.
PACOON organises training courses and workshops and informs, motivates and supports companies on evaluating and developing solutions.
The agency has a broad network of suppliers and institutes and is itself involved in several customer and promotion projects for innovative food packaging. Packaging and Packaging Materials is a key product segment for ProSweets Cologne. For this reason, the trade fair has been working with PACOON for quite some time to present the most innovative solutions to its customers in the sweets and snacks industry. The topic of sustainability is of particular importance here. Therefore, ProSweets Cologne took the opportunity to talk to Peter Désilets about his reuse strategy and new ways of sustainable packaging.
Sustainability is currently on everyone's lips, especially when it comes to packaging. What role does this topic play at PACOON and what measures are you already taking?
Désilets: As packaging designers, we deal with packaging of all kinds on a daily basis, so we decided back in 2008 to take a closer look at the issue of sustainability in packaging and have since established ourselves as the leading agency in Europe for sustainable packaging solutions. Soon we will also expand our office in Hamburg with expertise in sustainable packaging concepts, because the demand is growing more and more and we also want to offer our service at place.
Our goal is to bring tomorrow's solutions closer to the companies and to show trends and solutions. That's why we've been upfront since the beginning: our agency has been climate neutral since 2009, in 2012 we organised our first SOLPACK - International Conference on Sustainable Packaging - there have been four of them by now, including a digital event in 2020. We've been following the development of bioplastics for about a decade, have presented novel packaging concepts again and again, some of which were later taken up by the market despite the initial concerns of many sides. In 2015, we already presented the development of the original Carlsberg fibre bottle as a forward-looking concept, from 2016 we brought the topic of recycling to the fore, in 2017 we started with the first freely accessible workshops on recycling aspects in sorting and produced a guide even before the central body. Since 2018, we have been moving paper recycling into the spotlight and focusing on the new barrier functions in fibre packaging. In 2019, we started to push the development of an international reuse system together with many partners at home and abroad, which we called CYRCOL. There are many movements in the market, and it is important to distinguish the long-term from the medium-term.
Vision of a sustainable reuse strategy (Copyrights: Pacoon)
What vision are you pursuing with the Reuse Strategy? What is the idea behind it?
Désilets: As we look at and monitor the issue of "sustainable packaging" holistically, we have increasingly come to the conclusion that the use of single-use packaging and half-hearted recycling only embellishes the unsatisfactory situation, but does not remedy it. In a few years, there will be new recycling processes on an industrial scale, which will then offer more options with the better recycled material. But we believe that only reuse can fix the waste problem in the long run. To do this, we need to give value to packaging, we need to ensure that less and less packaging ends up as waste in nature. In Germany, we see that well over 90% of reuse packaging or deposit bottles are returned and thus do not end up in nature or are almost immediately incinerated. Reuse is also more than the well-known reusable packaging, reuse includes packaged products as well as unpackaged shopping in the shop, at the butcher or greengrocer, refill at the vending machine, to go e.g. for sweets and snacks and restaurant delivery up to e-commerce shipping packaging.
What are the challenges of a reuse system today?
Désilets: A 'reusable' system as we know it from bottles or glasses is no longer up to date. It works, but it reaches its limits. That's why we have made it to our task to question the entire system and to disruptively reorganise it. The hurdles for companies start there, having to buy containers to put them into circulation. Establishing their own cleaning facility, continuously moving a lot of money and covering many kilometres in transport, where the containers usually always take up the same amount of space whether they are empty or full. We don't even want to talk about containers that go abroad. The bottles and jars may be standardised, but the transport boxes are brand-specific. So the boxes have to go back to the manufacturer and with them the glasses and bottles - which also tend to break or get a nice look with partly toxic substances. In our interviews with the industry, we identified two major obstacles: the high CO2 emissions caused by transport and the high initial investment in containers and cleaning.
What solutions does Pacoon offer to meet these challenges?
Désilets: Our approach is international, with regional structures for collection, cleaning and distribution; to use standardised packaging as pay-per-use, but with the option of also using individual packaging. We want to code and identify each individual packaging element and can thus track and evaluate it individually. Individualised packaging is then no problem, I can even assign the individual transport route or cleaning effort to each packaging afterwards, attribute the useful life and frequency, credit the carbon footprint saved and involve the consumer in a completely different way. We can develop modular and standardised packages and use them in a very individual way if product protection is maintained. At the end of the day, the consumer wants a simple return station where they can drop off all reuse packs - perhaps even by picking them up at their home. We already have all these aspects in focus through a partner network and can test them in the development process.
Reusable packaging of thin foil packaging (Copyrights: Pacoon)
What scenarios do you see for the reuse system? Are there already customers who use it?
Désilets: We have not yet identified any industry where the use of reuse would not be conceivable. Certainly, individual sectors have very specific challenges that have to be mastered. But we are also in exchange with existing reusable solutions - or we prefer to say reuse packaging - and we already see a lot of applications today that can be well integrated into the system in the long term. Food, non-food, DIY, e-commerce, electronics, textiles and shoes or to-go products - the range of possible applications is enormous. Especially in the snacking sector, e.g. for the snack solution for chips that we have already outlined, there are already clear commitments from the industry to work on a reuse solution. There is also a lot of interest from the wine gum sector, which you can often transfer 1:1 to sweets or chewing gum.
The Cyrcol Reuse System (Copyrights: Pacoon)
Our system does not yet exist in its entirety, but many new packaging solutions for reuse are currently coming onto the market, we are receiving very good and positive feedback on our system approach from all stakeholders, and we have already received a letter of intent from some of them that they want to support us. Therefore, we are currently seeking funding options to implement the most important challenges such as hygiene, cleaning, coding or packaging development. We will then be able to operate a first regional test market with existing reuse packaging and test the acceptance, perhaps even through cooperating partner initiatives in Denmark, Sweden or Switzerland. The network is growing continuously. And we intend to use crowdfunding after the foundation of our company - by the way, we will found a company in responsible ownership so that future profits are reinvested for a specific purpose and are protected from pure financial interests. This is also how we want to position ourselves as a future-oriented company with CYRCOL.