Sales growth of up to 200 percent for disposable tableware and packaging made from plant starch: Bert Kantelberg, CEO of Papstar, sees the heightened environmental awareness of consumers as a great opportunity for his company. One challenge is putting disposable products in the right light.
“Disposable” sounds to some like the product in question knows only one way to go – into the trash. Is that wrong?
No one produces for the trash can. Tha‘s definitely a false perception. That’s why we prefer to refer to our products as disposable tableware and disposable packaging. These serve primarily to ensure safety as well as hygiene and thus consumer health. The current pandemic situation has once again brought home to us just how sensible this is. In any case, disposable tableware is indispensable wherever large numbers of people come together.
Why is it indispensable?
Cardboard plates can’t hurt anyone if they’re thrown in the direction of the field during a weekend soccer match. Paper cups cannot break in swimming pools and so, unlike glasses, no one has to step in broken glass. There are many good reasons for disposable tableware and packaging. If at the parish festival the beer glass is rinsed umpteen times only briefly and then used again, it is not so hygienic. It’s also important to remember that washing reusable dishes consumes resources and uses surfactants, which is not necessarily environmentally friendly.
To what extent is heightened environmental awareness among consumers an opportunity for a producer of disposable tableware?
Papstar has its roots in cardboard production. We have been using renewable raw materials for a long time. For many years, we tried again and again to offer more products in cardboard instead of plastic. However, we were quickly thwarted by the price. In a price comparison of cardboard with plastic, cardboard always draws the short straw. Plastics are simply cheaper to produce. Now there is a growing demand among consumers for alternatives to plastic. We are experiencing the demand for this with our partner Street Food Festival, for example. Something is happening, and we see this as a great opportunity. From our point of view, cardboard is the best starting material: the trees grow here and are processed here. So, there is also less environmental impact from transport.
You also offer some of your products made from palm leaf, bamboo, sugar cane, corn and, more recently, even agricultural residues. Are these in demand?
The demand is gigantic. Sales in these areas are growing by up to 200 percent in some cases. In the cup segment, those made from PLA (polylactide acid) are particularly in demand. With this material made from renewable raw materials, you don’t really notice any difference in use compared to conventional plastic. In packaging, the trend is toward cardboard and sugar cane. And in cutlery, we are now successfully offering solutions made of multilayer paper. This is very stable and works much better than you might think. Large parts of our range are already made entirely from renewable raw materials.
So, what happens to it once it has been used?
In this context, we founded Papstar Solutions two years ago. This company has set itself the goal of creating closed-loop solutions for our products and making them available to our customers. For example, we have been using a composting machine for disposal in our company cafeteria for years, although we prefer to speak of a bioconverter here. In this process, our disposable tableware made from renewable raw materials as well as food scraps are filled into the bioconverter, decomposed by microorganisms, and the remaining material is then sanitized. The recyclable material processed in this way goes to a nearby cardboard processing plant, is reused in production, and a recyclable material loop is thus closed.
Another example are our PLA cups from the “pure” product line: When used as part of an event, the cups come with a deposit – so that these cups are returned to where they were filled and put into circulation. We then take back the used cups and, together with a recycling partner, reprocess them. In this process, the cups are processed into PLA granules, which in turn are used to manufacture new bio-based plastic products. These examples show that disposable products do not have to generate waste.
How can the circular economy be strengthened?
In order to get a better grip on littering, it is above all the politicians who are called upon. I don’t think, for example, that we should ship our waste overseas, but that we have to take care of it ourselves. In any case, we do everything we can in our product range to ensure that the cycle is closed as far as possible.