Exclusive interview with Markku Hamalainen of Kotkamills Oy

Q. Your presentation will discuss “Plastic free, easily recyclable barrier board solutions for paper cups and other consumer packaging”, can you give us a sneak peak of what delegates will hear?

Kotkamills is focusing primarily on the plastic free Food Service Boards and now we can share our practical experiences in converting as well as on comments from end customers.

 

Q. Why do you think it is important to have a discussion on this topic at SPEU?

Environmental and sustainability issues, particularly plastic waste, have been strongly in the headlines recently. In Europe, the European Union is focusing on setting targets and restrictions to the amount of plastic containing materials used within the member countries. Also the general atmosphere as well as a drive towards circular economy among the consumers push for example packaging material companies to move away from plastics. Looking at the US situation through the European lenses it appears that the development is a bit behind and the awareness is just starting to emerge. Therefore it is important to inform all the pulp&paper colleagues about the latest technology and share practical experiences to produce plastic free packaging material. Additionally discussing the costs when only replacing polyethylene by non-plastic material without making any changes to the board machine or coating equipment. Costs per tonne of finished board are of course clearly higher, but the impact to the price of a cup of coffee is so small that the consumer hardly notices it. So for once an environmentally friendly solution does not cost extra to the common consumer. We at Kotkamills did our investment at the time when non-plastic replacement materials for extrusion coating processes were not yet available, but today the coating materials and technologies have developed so that the change to production of plastic-free cupstock or other packaging materials is easier to implement.

 

Q. What are some of the big challenges for Kotkamills within the specialty paper industry, right now?

We have invested close to 230 M USD in a brand new Board Machine using the latest coating technology to be able to produce sustainable packaging materials to the variety of Food Service Industries. The Board Machine has started up extremely well and the net efficiency has reached 80% already 1,5 years after the start up. So the production of the Board has not been an issue. But we have been surprised to see how slowly the tide is turning towards these new grades despite the growing pressure from the consumers. I know that forest and packaging industry is conservative, but the degree of conservatism has been surprisingly high. We have had challenges in effectively getting the message heard and could have been much more active in informing our customers and the end user markets about the new plastic free products and their usability and advantages.

 

Q. As consumers push for more sustainable products, what are some of the innovative ways you think we’ll see paper companies become more sustainable?

When talking about Food Service Businesses, I think we have been hiding behind the publically well known fact that any investment in pulp& paper industry is always Mega Bucks and therefore any change takes a long time to get done. But one realistic alternative is to focus on new sustainable coating materials instead and eliminate the additional investments totally. Even if the prices of these raw materials are high at the moment, the costs will come down when the consumption increases. And as I have said earlier, the extra costs to the consumer is anyway marginal.

Another aspect of the innovative ways to be sustainable is to also focus on the recycling value chain and have solutions for how to make the chain more circular to its nature starting from making sustainable materials, effectively get the material recycled and then reuse the material in the process again

 

Q. What are you most looking forward to hearing about at Specialty Papers EU 2019? 

I am looking forward to hearing about new products and innovations as well as how the progress regarding the sustainability issues have been developing since the last year’s conference.

 

Q. Why do you feel it’s important for people to attend Specialty Papers EU 2019? 

I think we all need to be aware of the latest trends within the Speciality Paper business area. We also need to exchange views regarding how we as paper industry should work together in order to gain new businesses either from totally unexplored product areas or from other than fibre based packaging materials.