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UPM Plywood makes use of recycled plastic for plywood packaging

 Friday, June 14, 2024

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UPM Plywood makes use of recycled plastic for plywood packaging

UPM Plywood adopts a pallet packaging solution incorporating 30% recycled plastic, meticulously tested to diminish both carbon footprint and expenses for customers.

In the past decade, plastic waste has surged, more than doubling to 353 million tonnes by 2019, as reported by the OECD Global Plastic Outlook. This concerning trend underscores the urgent need for action from governments, businesses, and individuals alike.

In alignment with the global initiative to curb plastic waste, UPM Plywood introduces innovative packaging solutions for its WISA birch panels. These panels are now wrapped using a combination of transparent plastic film, wood, cardboard, and paper labels. Additionally, spruce plywood sheets, predominantly utilized in construction and non-visible applications, are secured with plastic straps containing 98% recycled plastic. Notably, all packaging materials employed for WISA plywood are designed for recyclability or reusability, further contributing to waste reduction efforts.

Now, also WISA birch plywood will be wrapped and shipped in partially recycled plastic. The new packaging material is made of 30% post-industrial plastic, recovered from waste generated during manufacturing processes. Not only does it reduce the carbon footprint of UPM Plywood and its customers, but it also saves customers money, as they do not have to pay plastic taxes.

In the UK, a plastic packaging tax has been in place since the 1st of April 2022, and the EU is preparing a similar duty.

“Partially recycled plastic packaging is important to the UK customers, as they won’t have to pay tax on it. It simplifies the process and saves them money,” explains UK Sales Manager Joan Bailey.

According to the British rules, plastic packaging tax is applicable for plastic packaging components manufactured or imported into the UK where the recycled content is less than 30%. Applicable taxes can be over £200/tonne.

“The customers I’ve talked to are pleased that this is happening because it helps them in their calculations and reduces their tax burden. It is also welcomed and valued by customers operating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) business models,” Bailey notes.

Thoroughly tested for safety

During its transit from the mill to the customer, a plywood pallet undergoes extensive handling. The plastic wrapping serves multiple purposes, shielding the product from moisture and ensuring the safety of personnel tasked with maneuvering the hefty two-tonne pallets at warehouses and ports.

“If the packaging isn’t strong enough, these heavy pallets are a clear safety threat,” says Senior Buyer Sari Saari. She has, in cooperation with Senior Specialist Katri Karvinen and experts at UPM’s plywood mills, been responsible for testing the partially recycled plastic packaging.

Puncture resistance and durability during lifting are among the important requirements that have been tested in real-life scenarios, for instance in tilting tests, where a forklift throws a pallet around to make sure that the plastic can withstand rough handling.

“The wrapping’s most important task is to protect the product and keep it together. It is also important that the partially recycled plastic can be used on the automated packaging lines at the mills without complications,” Karvinen explains.

The implementation of the new plastic has commenced at UPM Savonlinna Plywood Mill and is soon to follow at UPM Joensuu Plywood Mill, thanks to successful trials. The overarching goal is for all UPM Plywood mills to integrate a minimum of 30% recycled plastic into their operations by the conclusion of 2024.

Karvinen and Saari concur that despite the time-intensive testing phase, the process has unfolded remarkably smoothly. With established procedures in place, scaling up the recyclable content promises to be more straightforward in the future.

Ready for future legislation

The introduction of the new packaging yields savings in natural resources and energy, concurrently curbing carbon emissions and waste, thereby advocating for principles of a circular economy. The rationale behind the emission reductions is clear-cut: Incorporating 30% recycled plastic translates to approximately 30% reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions.

The incorporation of 30% recycled plastic in the WISA plywood packaging brings positive implications for numerous customers in the UK, enabling them to circumvent the plastic packaging tax. Additionally, the reduction of plastic waste aligns with the EU’s focus, as preparations are underway for a new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), akin to the UK’s tax.

UPM Plywood remains proactive, initiating initial trials of packaging comprising 35% recycled plastic, with plans for a gradual increase in recycled material content. Furthermore, the agenda includes the development of packaging incorporating post-consumer plastic.

“In all our sustainability efforts, we strive to anticipate future changes,” says Jaakko Paloheimo, Sustainability Manager at UPM Plywood. Being ahead of the curve is part of UPM Plywood’s ‘Responsibility Made Easy’ promise to its customers. This means investing in responsibility also during financially tough times, Paloheimo stresses.

“The starting point of our development and actions is a better tomorrow, but the investments must be transferable to the customer’s brand. Our goal is always a win-win-win situation for the customer, the environment and us.”

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