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Paper bottles: your questions answered

This summer, Carlsberg announced that its paper-based bottle would soon be available for consumer trials across Europe. When Packaging Europe reported on this announcement, a number of readers raised some thought-provoking questions and talking points on this topic. Packaging Europe recently spoke with Simon Boas Hoffmeyer, director of sustainability at the Carlsberg Group, and put these reader questions to him.

Could you introduce the project and talk a bit about the motivation behind its creation?

The Carlsberg Group have announced the largest trial of its new Fibre Bottle, where we are going to put the bio-based fibre bottle into the hands of consumers for the first time. The pilot is vital to accelerating our ambition of making this beer bottle a commercial reality, and it will see 8,000 Fibre Bottles being sampled in eight Western European markets: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, United Kingdom, Poland, Germany and France.

This Generation 2.0 Fibre Bottle is a pioneering packaging solution for our beer and consists of a plant-based PEF polymer lining (≈45%) and a wood fibre outer shell (≈55%). Together these natural materials make the bottle fully bio-based (excluding the cap) and recyclable (including the cap). The bottle design and material composition are being continuously improved as technology evolves.

Further, to reach our ambitious carbon reduction targets, we need to develop low-carbon solutions across the entire value chain and the Fibre Bottle could be a viable alternative to the carbon-intensive single-use glass bottles. The Fibre Bottle is the latest demonstration of our approach and the benefits of open innovation. We are proud to continue its development with our partners to further our ambition to bring this solution to scale.

What are the advantages of this concept over traditional alternatives from a sustainability and functionality perspective? Are there any drawbacks?

The Fibre Bottle will be an additional alternative for consumers, not a replacement. Given the recyclability of cans and reusability of refillable glass bottles (RGBs), and the large-scale recycling infrastructures that are in place for these, the Fibre Bottle will complement these as an additional option.

We are continuously reviewing and making all our packaging more sustainable, while continuing the Fibre Bottle´s development and exploring other bio-based innovations that improve our packaging mix and expand consumer choices.

The current drawback is that the technology to make the Fibre Bottle to the same scale as existing packaging is not mature enough for large-scale commercial introduction yet, however, this pilot is an important step to make it a reality – something this radical is not easy.

How can this solution be disposed of post-use? Do you have any ambitions for how the final product might be disposed of?

For the pilot of the Fibre Bottle, it needs to be collected and then separated into the fibre material and the plant-based PEF material. PEF is a mono-material plastic that can be fully recycled in existing mechanical recycling facilities and can be distinguished from other plastics in the recycling stream. PEF does not contaminate the other materials in a way that renders them non-recyclable.

The bottle’s inner PEF layer and outer wood fibre layers are both bio-based, and the body of the bottle will degrade, in case it’s not collected into existing plastic recycling systems. Avantium, together with our partners in the PEFerence consortium, have found that material degradation into carbon and water starts within one year, and that it will not harmfully accumulate like traditional fossil-based plastics.

But just because the bottle can degrade back into the natural environment, this does not mean that it cannot or should not be recycled through existing systems. Our hope is that the 8,000 consumers that get to test the Generation 2.0 bottle, will bring it home, and keep it as a testament to the innovation journey the Fibre Bottle is on.

Prior to rolling out a commercial volume of the Fibre Bottle, a thorough recycling assessment will be conducted to determine the most optimal recycling pathway for the bottles. One route could be to collect the bottles through efficient deposit return schemes, and then recycle the material through the paper and cardboard recycling streams. We are excited to start working on this as Generation 3.0 becomes a reality.

Do you have an idea of the true environmental impact of this paper bottle? Have any studies/LCAs been conducted?

As we develop the Fibre Bottle further, our aim is for it to achieve the same carbon footprint as our most comparable, best-performing off-trade packaging: the refillable glass bottle. We have conducted a third-party-verified Lifecycle Assessment (full LCA report available separately on request) to understand how the Fibre Bottle compares on environmental performance and our opportunities to improve it further.

The LCA results show that the current Fibre Bottle already performs better than the one-way glass bottle, even when the Fibre Bottle is co-produced with our partners and the different material components are produced and combined at the respective small-scale production plants. By 2025, however, our partner Paboco will expand their production capacity and have their production plant running fully on renewable electricity.

This will consolidate and renewably power more of the production processes, and thereby produce the Fibre Bottle more efficiently and a lower carbon footprint. The corresponding carbon footprints, and how they compare to the different types of glass bottles and cans, are outlined below:

2022 LIFECYCLE ASSESSMENT (LCA) RESULTS
PACKAGING TYPE TOTAL

(kg of CO2e per hl)*

INDEX
One-Way Glass Bottle (OWGB) ~75 100%
Generation 2.0 Fibre Bottle without scaled production (current) ~50 ~67%
Aluminium can ~24 ~32%
Generation 2.0 Fibre Bottle with scaled production & 100% wind power (2025) ~22 ~29%
Refillable Glass Bottle (RGB); refilled & reused 10 times ~15 ~20%
Refillable Glass Bottle (RGB); refilled & reused 15 times ~12 ~16%
Generation 3.0 Fibre Bottle with scaled production & 100% wind power (2025), with inner barrier reduced to 5g (instead of 18g) ~11 ~15%

* These modeled values come with an inherent slight uncertainty and can vary depending on the supplier. Still, the uncertainty is significantly lower than the multiple times difference in the major footprints of the packaging options.

* In this assessment it is assumed that all packaging types are sold in a market with an established and efficient deposit return scheme (DRS), which exists in markets such as the Nordics, Baltics and Germany, and which is under development in most European markets. More specifically, to render the packaging types comparable, it is assumed that the end-of-life scenario is the same for all the packaging types where 90% are recycled, 8% are incinerated with energy recovery and 2% are littered or landfilled. To ensure consistency in the analysis, and to avoid double-counting of the benefits gained from collecting and recycling packaging versus those gained from the usage of recycled content, the Circular Footprint Formula (CFF) has been applied.

While Generation 2.0 already performs better than the single-use glass bottle in the lifecycle assessment, Carlsberg has greater ambitions for the subsequent Generation 3.0. The vision, supported by current projections, is for the Fibre Bottle to achieve up to 80% less emissions than current single-use glass bottles.

Thus, for every single-use glass bottle created, five Fibre Bottles could be created using the same carbon footprint. Ultimately, Carlsberg aims for the Fibre Bottle to achieve the same low carbon footprint as the refillable glass bottle, which is currently the best-performing primary packaging when collected and reused in efficient systems.

Some of Packaging Europe readers have labelled this announcement as greenwashing, saying that the product is simply a plastic bottle wrapped in paper. How would you respond to these criticisms?

We are aware of cases in other industries where a traditional fossil-based polymer has been wrapped in paper. However, this is not the case with the Fibre Bottle. It has an inner lining of a plant-based polymer, polyethylenefuranoate, (PEF), which is compatible with conventional plastic and paper recycling systems while also being degradable in case it is discarded in nature.

It is necessary to add a barrier between the liquid and the bottle´s paper-like outer shell, keeping the beer equally fresh and great-tasting for up to 6 months. PEF is a revolutionary alternative polymer – not only is it made entirely from renewable raw materials, but it can retain carbon dioxide better than the conventional PET plastic, so both the environment and our beer can benefit from this PEF solution.

Creating and integrating a biobased polymer barrier into the Fibre Bottle, which maintains beer quality equally well or even better than fossil-fuel-based PET barriers, has been the greatest challenge to bringing the bottle to scale. To show our commitment to this innovative material, we signed a conditional off-take agreement with Avantium, at the same time as announcing the Fibre Bottle pilot launch. This means that we have secured a fixed volume of the PEF from Avantium’s FDCA Flagship Plant, which Avantium aims to start-up in 2024.

Our vision is to make a recyclable, low-carbon, bio-based beer bottle, that can offer a new and different drinking experience to our consumers. With the latest PEF solution and the Generation 2.0 bottle design, we have made a big step forward in 2022, and will proceed into the development of the Generation 3.0 design for the Carlsberg brand.

What are the next steps in the journey towards the end point of Carlsberg’s collaboration with Paboco?

Together with our partners in the Paper Bottle Community and the PEFerence consortium, we will continue working to further improve the bottle’s environmental footprint, product performance and affordability.

Building on our learnings and advances in 2022, we plan to optimize the bottle design together with our partners, and thereafter scale the design as we continue into the “decade of action” towards 2030.

More specifically, Paboco and our partners in the wider Paper Bottle Community are exploring alternative fibre-based bottle caps, with an initial generic solution expected in 2023. We will continue development to arrive at a tailored Generation 3.0 solution that is equally suitable for primary beer packaging, including a new composition of the bottle between PEF and fibre.

Source: https://packagingeurope.com/ 

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