“It’s not paper and it’s not plastic… it’s Paptic, and it’s a completely new material all of its own,” says Esa Torniainen, co-founder and chief business development officer at Finnish start-up company Paptic. During his interview with Paper360°, Torniainen enthusiastically waves paper-like products—shopping bags, envelopes, and pouches—all of which are causing quite a stir among customers and end-users alike all over Europe and beyond.
It certainly is a product out on its own; as soon as you touch it you can tell there is something distinctly different about Paptic material, something unusual and yet familiar, soft to the touch, yet strong and seemingly tough and durable, more like a textile. “We get a lot of comments about the touch and feel of our products, and a lot of people immediately saying ‘where can I get this? I need this for my products’,” continues Torniainen.
It may feel like a textile, but Paptic is made almost entirely of wood pulp as a raw material, along with a top-secret recipe that makes it also durable enough for applications like reusable bags. “Paptic is actually a paper product that can be reused or recycled and biodegrades,” explains Torniainen. “But it has a lot of qualities that plastic has: foldability without creasing, durability, and a lot more moisture resistance when compared to standard kraft papers.”
The next evolution of Paptic will be introduced soon, when the company scales up its patented technology based on the innovative use of foam instead of water. “Foam technologies are a true game changer, enabling a dramatic expansion of the number of different applications made possible for wood-based products,” states Dr. Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski, co-founder of Paptic. She studied the potential of foam technologies in her dissertation “Foam as a carrier phase—a multipurpose technology for industrial applications.”
THE PERFECT TRIO
The headquarters of the company are located on the outskirts of Helsinki, just a stone’s throw away from where Torniainen graduated, at the Laboratory of Graphic Arts at the Helsinki University of Technology. After various stints at well-known forest products companies in Finland, he ended up working at VTT, the renowned Finnish research institute, involved in new project sales. It was here that the concept of Paptic was first formed after meeting his co-founders, Dr. Kinnunen-Raudaskoski and Tuomas Mustonen. It was the perfect trio to embark on a new enterprise: Kinnunen-Raudaskoski is an active initiator and researcher of foam technologies in the paper industry, and CEO Mustonen is heavily involved in research to identify new bioproducts.
The formation of the trio perfectly coincided with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s massively effective campaign around 2013-14 highlighting the pollution of the Earth’s oceans. The campaign stated that if we continue as we are now, “there will soon be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” which had a dramatic effect on consumers and the general public as the message went viral worldwide. A lot of the images that went alongside the campaign involved plastic waste, including plastic bags.
“This is the reason that we founded Paptic in 2015,” says Torniainen. “Yes, we saw there was a great opportunity for new plastic-free products, but more importantly, we could make good things that help save the world.”
THE ORDERS STARTED FLOODING IN
At the start-up of the company in 2015, the Paptic concept for plastic-free consumer products attracted a lot of interest, and before long investors began getting behind the new company to support its ambitions. “We had the excellent advantage of many years of experience behind us in the bioproduct research area, and we knew that once we had a sellable product, the key was to be able to ramp up production pretty quickly,” says Torniainen.
Form foaming expert Kinnunen-Raudaskoski took on the major task of creating prototypes of the first Paptic products, making them by hand in a laboratory. “I have to be honest, the first products that came out of the laboratory were awful—far from ideal—but it was a fantastic start as we could really see the potential in them,” says Torniainen.
After a number of changes to the raw materials, and due to some valuable expertise and experience in adjusting the recipe and the staging of the foam forming process, the Paptic team achieved acceptable quality, and they took samples out on the road. They started with some of the major fashion houses in Helsinki, and continued on to Sweden, Germany, and the UK.
“We were completely amazed at the response to the first Paptic products,” says Torniainen. “One marketing person of a major brand asked how quickly we could deliver a million shopping bags… and at the time we had only the four handmade bags and 10 sheets!”
After many presentations and hard work on the marketing front, it was soon clear that the Paptic team was on to something, particularly with brands that were trying to impress consumers with attention to environmental issues. Before long, Paptic team members were being requested at meetings to present the new products at major brand houses all over Europe, and the orders began flooding in.
RAMPING UP PRODUCTION
Back at home base in Helsinki, the Paptic founders decided to install a pilot machine that could also satisfy the first production demands. Kinnunen-Raudaskoski again took responsibility for the technical side of foam forming, this time to ramp up production of products. Other experts on foam forming were also drafted in to convert the pilot machine to enable the production of reels of Paptic products.
“We were up and running and producing products from the pilot machine in 14 months from company start-up; we are very proud of that achievement,” adds Torniainen.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Paptic brand, and the obvious environmental and high-quality ascetic attributes of the material, have spread far and wide. The company now has agents and representatives all over Europe and across to Japan; they will soon be represented in the US.
The company now supplies a full range of products under its Tringa brand, including carrier bags, e-com mailers, and other flexible packaging products—basically, anything that is typically made from oil-based plastics. The material can also be converted into packages using technologies such as heat-sealing, gluing, and stitching.
“One of our top demands right from the outset was that we needed to seamlessly integrate into existing production value chains—for instance, at the converters,” says Torniainen. “When you bring a new product onto the market, the last thing needed is bottlenecks; in our case, often all a converter needs to do is change a blade to run Paptic material.”
Paptic started commercial deliveries of Paptic Tringa from a collaboration partner’s paper mill to customers at the end of 2018. “We delivered hundreds of tons of Paptic material to customers in 2019. The market demand allows us to more than tenfold the deliveries in 2020,” says Torniainen. “New products aimed to replace plastics in product packaging are already at the piloting stage; Paptic is looking for ways to arrange the capacity increase. Plans to license Paptic technology will follow soon after the scale-up of our own production is completed.”
INTO THE FUTURE
Co-founder and CEO Mustonen says, “Paptic as a company is now at a crucial and exciting stage in its development. As the brands respond to consumer demands on the environmental front, they are urgently seeking solutions to the plastics problem, and to products and materials like Paptic that can provide these solutions.
“We are keen on developing Paptic as a global brand. Besides increasing production capacity at the mills we are producing at now, we see that licensing the Paptic brand and technology to paper making companies as also a very effective way of expanding.”
Torniainen adds, “The long-term business model hinges on licensing the Paptic technology. The beauty of the concept is that raw material is readily available in most places where there are already paper mills, and the production process uses paper machines, albeit with alterations to enable the foam forming process.”
Regarding the long-term future of Paptic, Torniainen concludes: “I stick by what I recently said on the 10 o’clock news in Finland: In 10 years’ time there will be a million tons a year of Paptic material being produced around the world.”