Green packaging, not green-washing

Sustainable solutions for feminine hygiene products

Sustainability is a future-oriented issue. The way forward is being set today, and it requires interdisciplinary strategies. It is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Two sustainable packaging solutions co-developed at Optima are proof of this. One solution received the German Packaging Award, the other is in the running for the Innovation Award for Climate and Environment by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. Optima Nonwovens' machine technologies are equipped for the new packaging materials and proven in practice.

“Particularly in terms of sustainable solutions, we are now addressing this issue collectively and at a much earlier stage, from the packaging material to the machine to the entire life cycle of the packaging material and the machine,” explains Dominik Bröllochs, Team Leader Sustainable Solutions of the Optima Group. This is now only possible by working as a network. As a result, project run times would be massively shortened, risks minimized and results improved. Taking diaper packaging as an example, Dominik Bröllochs presents a solution, which is in the interests of marketing and ecology: the sleeve bag, a 100% recyclable monopolyethylene (PE) packaging for paper hygiene products, such as diapers, sanitary napkins or even toilet paper.

Important for you 
  • In the context of Optima’s sustainability strategy, besides resource-saving machines with a low CO₂ footprint, sustainable packaging solutions are also developed.
  • Two sustainable packaging solutions have been developed by Optima: the sleeve bag and the world’s first paper packaging for feminine hygiene products.
  • Flexibility allows sustainability: All Optima Nonwovens’ packaging systems can be flexibly converted from packaging in film to paper and vice versa.
  • Also a core element of the Optima Group's sustainability strategy: Partnerships along the value chain and honest packaging.
Product protection, recyclability and diversification

Diapers or sanitary napkins contain super-absorbers for absorbing fluids reliably. In order to ensure the required product protection from the manufacturer to the customer, especially for the super-absorber, plastic packaging is necessary. “We take the view here that no single packaging material is more eco-friendly than another for various products. It makes no sense to basically switch everything over to paper,” according to Bröllochs. Unprinted mono plastics today can achieve a quality via single-variety recycling that matches the quality of the original material. That's why, here, in a fully automated process, a paper or PE sleeve is inserted together with the products into transparent PE bags.

ZERO machine feminine hygiene shuttle
The feminine hygiene products are pushed at high speed through the shuttle to the opened pack.

Only the sleeve is printed to attract attention. The bag and its contents look tightly packed and of high quality. The use of mono materials and the loose connection between bag and sleeve allow these to be separated by the consumer, or at a later stage in the recycling plant by means of existing sorting technologies. The packaging is easily disposed of via the dual system. Classic PE, recycling PE as well as bio-based PE and biodegradable PE can be used for the transparent polyethylene bag. With the existing solution on the market (printed PE bag) no actual recycling is possible; only downcycling, which does not meet the goal of the circular economy. If the transparent sleeve bag is recycled, on the other hand, high quality recycling material can be obtained, resulting in PE bags being developed again without any reductions in quality. The sleeve bag offers the opportunity for a real Cradle to Cradle concept adds Bröllochs. Recycling according to the Cradle to Cradle principle, means that the material can and also will be reused again and again for the same product, because it involves pure materials. If the printed insert (necessary for marketing, barcodes, etc.) is made of paper, this ensures high quality recycling.

Bleaching technologies have been used in paper for a long time now, which is why the print color can be removed from the fibers. This means that after recycling, the paper fibers used can be reused as packaging material. The choice of material for the insert, whether PE or paper, depends on the customer's sustainability strategy and the country in which the packaging is also disposed of. There are many different kinds of recyclable plastic packaging on the market. On the topic of Design for Recycling, however, it should also be considered that the packaging material has a high value later in its life in terms of the packaging design, and a corresponding customer market. Take the sleeve bag as a example: Transparent recycling material is one of the most sought-after recycling materials on the market with a high value. This means the chance for reuse is drastically increased. Optima has gone one step further and no longer talks about Design for Recycling, but about Circular Design, which includes the flow of recyclable materials in its approach. After Design for Recycling, Circular Design is the next step required for a functioning circular economy, Bröllochs emphasizes.

The prospect of a functioning circular economy

In summary: The sleeve bag offers the prospect of a functioning circular economy according to the Cradle to Cradle principle. The safe installation of the paper insert and the encasing of the products is a new, innovative process by Optima. This process can be retrofitted for existing packaging machines, which also contributes to sustainability. “With the sleeve bag, Optima has developed honest packaging. In terms of sustainability, honest packaging is the only way that we want to go forward with our customers. The sleeve bag shows that it's not always a matter of having to develop complex new materials, but the boldness in simplicity of package is often just the beginning. However, despite the simple composition at first glance, this packaging is innovative and ecologically profitable,” stresses Bröllochs. The packaging was certified by the cyclos-HTP institute as “excellent to 100 percent recyclable”. The cyclos-HTP GmbH institute, based in Aachen, Germany, tests and certifies the recyclability of packaging. The sleeve bag is also shortlisted for the Climate and Environment Innovation Award of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.

Sustainable paper packaging
Optima now also packs feminine hygiene products in paper bags. Since the sleeve bag is made of mono materials, the individual packaging components can be separated by the consumer easily and recycled. The packaging has been certified by the cyclos-HTP institute as “excellent 100 percent recyclable”.
Flexible conversion of packaging material

Optima is not only active in the area of packaging development; the machine technology also provides optimal conditions for a flexible conversion from PE to paper and vice versa, reports Bogdan Zaczek, Key Account Manager at Optima Nonwovens. All machine solutions by this business division are flexibly adaptable. Conversion takes no longer than a normal format change. This means ad hoc tests with paper or bioplastics, for example, can be run. Further optimizations in terms of efficiency and output are possible at any time. Together with Fripa, the 100% “Paper in Paper” solution has been implemented for the first time at Optima Nonwovens. There, toilet rolls are packed in paper bags with the OPTIMA OSR. “Now we have converted further lines of our customers for diapers, toilet rolls, paper towels and feminine hygiene products for processing paper packaging,” adds Zaczek. Paper bags are manually added to the packaging process. “In addition, we are receiving more and more requests for the flexible processing of different packaging materials right from the outset,” adds Markus Urich, Key Account Manager at Optima Nonwovens. 

ZERO Feeding Paper Bag Machine
Paper bags are manually added to the packaging process.

In a project concerned with the packaging of feminine hygiene products, fully recyclable paper was used as packaging material for the first time in the world. This case demonstrated that paper with reduced printing and without any plastic coating can definitely be an alternative to plastic for hygiene products. The packaging will soon be available in retail outlets everywhere and has even received the German Packaging Award 2021. The jury comments: “Paper is not always an appropriate substitute for plastic when it comes to FMCG packaging (FMCG: Fast Moving Consumer Goods). Here, paper is a sustainable alternative that can be recycled easily.” The development partnership with Voith Paper gives Optima the ideal conditions to develop further packaging for products for which paper packaging previously seemed unthinkable. Whether paper, PE or bio PE – it is essential to integrate product protection, sustainability and marketing successfully with one another. The machine technologies required for this are available at Optima. This ensures the new packaging solutions have a successful future. The Sustainability Solutions team – Dominik Bröllochs and Ulrich Burkart – as well as the sales experts at Optima Nonwovens will be happy to advise you.

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