Mondi Group: ‘Paper Where Possible, Plastic When Useful’

Peter Oswald, CEO of packaging leader Mondi Group, sat down recently with Paper360° Senior Editor Mark Rushton to discuss trends in fiber-based packaging, the role of digitalization, and how plastics can play a part in a more sustainable future.

With key operations in central Europe, Russia, North America, and South Africa, Mondi manages forestlands and produces pulp, paper, containerboard, packaging, and technical films. In 2019, Mondi made its first appearance in the “Top 10” on the Paper360° Top 75 list of manufacturers.

Paper360°: From where you stand as the CEO of a major packaging producing company, how do you see the trends in packaging, particularly in the business areas in which Mondi operates?

Oswald: Mondi is actively leading the future of a sustainable packaging industry. We believe that contributing to a better world makes good business sense, driving innovation and change throughout the value chain. We believe all packaging must be fit for purpose and sustainable by design.

Peter Oswald, Chief Executive the packaging company Mondi.

We are therefore well-positioned to respond proactively to the three major trends that we currently see driving our industry: sustainability, digitalization, and the role of packaging in enhancing brand value.

Sustainability has become a necessity as consumers around the globe demand packaging solutions that are sourced, produced, and can be disposed of, responsibly. Packaging is also part of the solution to global waste. Designed well, it protects and prolongs the life of products, especially food, helping to make goods more accessible to people worldwide. Our in-depth understanding of raw materials, converting processes, product design, local supply chains, and recycling capabilities is ideal to guide the customer in making the right holistic packaging choice for both the planet and for the customer’s requirements, ultimately enhancing brand value, too.

The digital revolution is also creating opportunities for us to scrutinize our production processes, supply chains, customer interfaces, and employee engagement platforms to explore new ways of working to deliver growth. We have digitalization projects underway across a number of business areas to enhance customer satisfaction, drive performance, optimize pricing, and facilitate customer collaboration 24/7.

Operational efficiency initiatives include further improved production processes and product quality, reduced waste, and predictive maintenance. We therefore see digitalization as a key competitive advantage over the next 10 years and are investing accordingly.

Digitalization is also providing great career opportunities for our employees because we understand that technology will make us efficient, but it’s our people who make us smart. So digital inclusion will be the game-changer, as we need to take all our employees, our customers, and the communities in which we operate on this journey, offering the appropriate training and support.

Is the bad press plastics are getting regarding ocean pollution leading to an optimistic outlook for the pulp and paper industries and Mondi in particular?

We need to be careful not to demonize all plastic, as there is a role for some plastics in fighting food waste, for example.

Mondi has developed a customer-centric approach called EcoSolutions through which we are collaborating with customers to help them deliver on their sustainability goals and commitments. Both paper and flexible plastic have specific properties that make them fit for different purposes. Optimizing the material used for packaging is part of Mondi’s framework. Our mantra is paper where possible, plastic when useful.

EcoSolutions prioritizes three actions: replace, reduce, and recycle.
• Replace less sustainable products and materials with solutions that help customers fulfil their commitments.
• Reduce the volume of raw materials used and reduce the overall environmental footprint through operational efficiency and raw material choices including recycled plastic and fibers.
• Recycle by developing hybrid paper and mono-material plastic solutions that are specifically designed for recycling. As a producer of both fiber-based and flexible plastic packaging, we are in a unique position to develop solutions that consider the needs of our customers, their products, and the planet.

Can you talk about any specific work Mondi is doing to replace plastic packaging with fiber-based packaging? Can you give some examples of the products?

This year, Mondi won more World Star Packaging Awards (eight) than any other packaging company. Seven of these awards were for fiber-based innovations such as our Glass7Box for premium glassware company Riedel. Recognition by our industry is a great validation of our R&D efforts.

We are the world’s largest paper bag maker. Our recent EUR 67 million (US$73.8 million) capital investment project to convert a containerboard machine at Štětí, in the Czech Republic, will be fully dedicated to the production of speciality kraft paper with a mix of recycled and virgin fiber content, with shopping bags a key application.

As part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability, we continuously invest in R&D while exploring new ways of replacing less sustainable packaging with fiber-based packaging. Three great examples to replace plastic wrapping in the growing e-commerce sector are our SizeMeMailer, which can be quickly adjusted in size to reduce the amount of air shipped in transport; MailerBag, an e-commerce paper bag made of sack kraft paper that replaces plastic mailers; and DelightBox, which is a one-piece e-commerce corrugated box solution that can replace plastic bags for many sectors.

Another good example is SKOG for Food, which has the barrier properties of plastic and the breathability of paper—meaning it is suited to protecting and preserving fresh foods. It is made from credibly certified paper and reduces plastic by up to 70 percent compared with plastic bags.

What about Mondi’s own plastic films area—what R&D work is being carried out to lessen the impact of plastic?

We only use flexible plastics, which saves 70 percent of the raw plastic material compared to rigid plastics.

We already have a couple of award-winning products available in the market: StripPouch, a fully recyclable, stand-up pouch that espouses the Cradle-to-Cradle guidelines, developed with leading German FMCG company Werner & Mertz; and BarrierPack Recyclable, also a 100 percent recyclable mono-material pouch that is perfectly suited for food, pet care, home, and personal care products.

Looking to the future, we are a signatory of The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment—committing to 100 percent of plastic-based packaging being reusable, recyclable, or compostable; and 25 percent being from recycled content (where it does not compromise food and health requirements) by 2025.

As part of this, we recently led a Pioneer Project, collaborating with stakeholders, including competitors from across the plastics value chain, to create a prototype flexible plastic pouch that is made from 20 percent post-consumer waste. The project has shown that it is possible to use unclean and raw post-consumer recycled content to create new flexible packaging. We are now developing the prototype further to ensure it can be rolled out as a commercially viable product for our multinational FMCG customers.

How about professional and printing papers—is the downward trend now slowing? Is there still a good future for this sector?

Mondi’s uncoated fine paper business has six operating sites across four countries and employs approximately 6,500 people. We have some of the most efficient and cost-effective paper machines in the world, and we are the leading supplier of uncoated fine paper in Europe. So with our range of low-cost, sustainably-produced office and professional printing paper, we continue to see strong potential for us in this sector.