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Designing For Circularity: The How and the Why

by The Dieline on 09/25/2023 | 3 Minute Read

More and more brands are committed to a circular economy where sustainable package design is a given. For this to happen, however, it’s critical to understand how paperboard contributes to circularity and how you can design with that in mind.

And why?

Well, for starters, there's growing demand from consumers, not to mention stricter regulations on both regional and global levels and a rapidly expanding awareness within companies. That’s three strong drivers putting circular design at the heart of strategic decisions in many industries.

Some brands are responding to this call for more eco-friendly ideas. Unilever, for instance, committed to reducing non-recyclable plastic packaging by 50% by 2025 while collecting and processing more plastic than it sells. Loop, an initiative from recycling company TerraCycle, partnered with several major FMCG brands and retailers and introduced reusable and refillable packaging.


Getting Circularity Right

If we want to make sustainable packaging a more common solution, it’s essential to understand all aspects of it. Designing for circularity or eco-design is about providing the conditions for recovering packaging materials for additional use.

Paper and paperboard are highly recyclable, and their raw material, wood, is renewable and part of the forest bioeconomy. What’s more, it’s one of the most recycled materials in the US, with an impressive capture rate. However, other necessary dimensions must be in place.

Here are three key areas to assess when defining if a material is recyclable:


Is there an existing collection stream in place? What does the infrastructure of collection and sorting look like?


Is there an economically viable material recycling process? Do customers understand how to handle and sort?


Is there an actual driver of demand for recycled materials?

These conditions may differ between different markets, so you must understand the specific regions for your products.


Common Misunderstandings

When learning about the requirements for a circular economy and recycling, there are a few common errors to avoid. It’s easy to conclude that every package should incorporate recycled material, but it also depends on the product. Different products put different requirements on the packaging. If criteria like strength, pureness, or quality consistency are more important, it's better to use fresh fibers. The lesson is that we must consider all requirements when selecting our packaging material. 

While it is easy to focus on one aspect when choosing paperboard, you need to look at the whole situation.

Another common misunderstanding is that recycling is the most crucial component of circularity. Of course, it’s meaningful, but it’s also not a foolproof solution. Instead, designers should always consider three indispensable facets of the circular economy:

  • Keep products and materials in use. Select paperboard that can get used for a long time and design with that in mind. Rather than creating something that can get thrown away in the moment, creatives should aim to provide lasting solutions.
  • Design out waste and pollution. Ensure that the paperboard you select gets manufactured with renewable energy and that water and other natural products are cleaned and returned to the ecosystem. It should also be recyclable and compostable.
  • Regenerate natural systems. When selecting paperboard, make sure it gets made from leftover wood from sustainably managed forests. Continuously growing new trees—while making full use of those that are cut down—ensures a healthy forest.

Partnerships are Key

Achieving a circular economy involves companies in all parts of the value chain. That is certainly true when it comes to packaging. Working in close partnerships is the only way to develop the next generation of sustainable packaging solutions.

Holmen Iggesund has created a guide called Future-Proof Your Packaging based on experiences and learnings from these partnerships. It’s filled with useful, hands-on information focused on what we believe is critical in developing the next generation of sustainable packaging solutions.

If you want to learn more about how paperboard contributes to circularity and how you can design with that in mind, download our guide at Iggesund.

Go here to learn more about Iggesund.