A number of global companies have replaced (or are currently performing trials to replace) the material in their gift cards – from plastic to paperboard. For example, Sweden’s largest cinema chain, SF Bio, has taken the plunge and is now replacing all of its plastic cards with paperboard. “When our card supplier, Megacard, suggested we could make our gift cards from paperboard and thereby drastically reduce their environmental impact, it was self-evident for us to switch,” explained Anna Marcusson, Product Manager for Gift Cards at SF Bio. “In plain language, it means we’re phasing out the use of 10 tonnes of PVC a year by phasing out the plastic and replacing it with cards made of Invercote from Iggesund Paperboard,” she revealed.
Replacing plastic with a non-fossil materials is now a clear trend in the global packaging industry. Switching from fossil plastic to an alternative material such as paperboard reduces companies’ climate impact. Changing an established infrastructure takes time, though – especially if it means that the packaging must be redesigned, the packing equipment modified or replaced, and the distribution from manufacturer to consumer altered. For example, the UK food company Iceland has attracted widespread attention with its pledges to eliminate plastic in its packaging within 5 years. Many people with packaging experience say 5 years is a fairly short time given the challenges faced by Iceland. In light of these factors, switchovers by companies like SF Bio (and even IKEA) have occurred very quickly, and there’s reason to believe that many more companies will follow their example, say industry experts.
“Because the cards’ format is identical, it’s easy to make the switch. Apart from the actual production process for making the cards, very few other components of companies’ existing equipment need to be modified,” explained Johan Granås, Head of Sustainability at Iggesund Paperboard, who was closely involved in developing the solution that IKEA finally chose. “So this is a very simple step to take compared to redesigning a plastic packaging solution, where complex and fully automated packing lines must be modified.”
Another example of this packaging industry trend is Apple, where packaging developers are also focusing on reducing the use of plastic. This is clear from Apple’s Paper and Packaging Strategy, which the company published in October of 2017. Among other things, the report details how Apple succeeded in reducing the plastic content of its iPhone 7 packaging by 84% compared to that of the iPhone 6s. Apple’s smart speaker, HomePod, launched at the beginning of 2018, is a clear example of this approach. An incredibly complex paperboard construction with closures holds the speaker cord in place and there’s also a set-up to secure the plug. “Ten years ago, any manufacturer would have solved this issue with plastic,” Granås added. “But now we’re seeing time and again how companies are investing strongly to create alternative solutions in paperboard – not only Apple, but many, many others.”
However, Granås is careful to add that plastic is still an important material in both today’s and tomorrow’s packaging market. Traditional paperboard packaging for food often needs a plastic barrier to create a seal that protects against grease, moisture and aromas. Making the packaging’s construction out of paperboard and then creating the barrier with the thinnest possible plastic coating is already a good example of good materials’ management. “The development of fossil-free plastic materials is happening very quickly and I predict we’ll soon have bio-plastics with less and less fossil content, which will significantly reduce the climate impact of food packaging in particular,” he concluded.