Which emerging technologies or new product developments have the potential to become game changers within the specialty papers industry?
A: Water-based functional and barrier coatings have dramatically met and exceeded demands for more sustainable packaging alternatives, and they are poised to continue doing so. New developments are allowing new and innovative coatings to be applied on the paper machines, as well as off-line coaters.
Why is sustainability so important to this industry and its future?
A: Clearly, the world view on plastics is changing. People are looking for alternatives, and the specialty papers industry is poised to provide alternatives. New technologies, new coatings, and people’s willingness to try new packaging alternatives are opening doors that have been closed for many years. The future is very bright for specialty papers in the packaging arena.
What does Cascades-Sonoco hope to achieve over the next 5 years with regards to sustainable solutions?
A: Cascades-Sonoco has been in existence since 1992. For the first 20+ years, we were focused on roll packaging. This packaging was used to protect rolls of communications paper from the paper mills to the printing presses. As this business began to decline (due to the electronic communication era, i.e. phones, iPads, etc.), we knew we needed to change if we were going to survive. In 2010, we set out to find out what other markets we could possibly provide value to. After a lot of soul searching and market evaluation, we began focusing on becoming a market leader in coating and lamination innovations. We had the foresight to focus on sustainable solutions from the very beginning. We took the right path, and today, everything we do is focused on sustainable solutions. Whether it is repulpability, recyclability, or compostability, we have specialty solutions for each.
We do not see things slowing down. Actually, the level of activity is intensifying. We are getting inquiries for products that we never thought of when we began reinventing our company back in 2010. Over the next 5 years, we see that heat sealable, water-based coatings will be our main focus. We see opportunities in paper cups, folding cartons, and even flexible packaging.
Your presentation with Yvon Mongrain at this year’s Specialty Papers US conference will discuss the deployment of a water-based functional coating solution. What are some of the key take-a ways?
A: One of the take-aways we hope to share with the conference attendees is that you need patience, but you also need perseverance. When it comes to new product development, for every step you take forward, you will likely take two back. You cannot get discouraged. You need to believe in your products and work closely with companies that are willing to work toward change. When we are developing new solutions for our customers, we do everything we can to come up with a product that will perform as close to the product that they want to replace in their operations. This is not as easy as it sounds. Water-based products are different than poly and films, and working with companies that realize this makes it easier to eventually arrive at the solution that they are looking for. Another key thing to remember is that it will take longer than you anticipate. There are inherently a lot of trials and errors in this type of product development.
Having a high-level corporate sponsor supporting the efforts is a real plus. The customer needs to have a vision of where they want to go and be able to sell this throughout the entire company. From the C-Suite to the shop floor, everyone needs to be on board and understand what’s in it for them if they do make the change to a new, more sustainable, package.
Your presentation will address simultaneously solving a problem and filling a need. How can this approach benefit the specialty papers industry as it looks toward the future?
A. The specialty papers industry is in a unique position, one that we have not been in for some time. Paper is viewed in a more favorable light right now over plastics. This is not to say that there is no longer a place for plastic in packaging, because there definitely is. But what we are seeing right now is a willingness and openness to look again at paper packaging as an alternative solution. Paper is renewable and highly functional, and with the strong desire for recyclability, specialty papers are a very good option. New technologies and new coatings are constantly being developed, and we see a very bright future for specialty papers, as long as companies have an open mind and are willing to change.