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    Interview Christian Schmidt, DS Smith Packaging Romania: “We are proactively working with our recycling customers to improve segregation and collection methods, whilst advocating for segregated recycling”

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    DS Smith Packaging, one of the largest global packaging companies, has recently increased its footprint in the Romanian market with an investment of over 13 million Euro in its Ghimbav production site.

    In line with DS Smith’s commitment to sustainability, this investment supports the company’s goal to meet Net Zero emissions by 2050. The upgrades at Ghimbav reduce the site’s gas consumption by 12 percent and cut its carbon emissions by 210 tonnes CO2 per year through the introduction of a steam optimization feature to the cardboard production machine.

    “Having 2 brownfields in Romania that cover the entire packaging business, and three service centers relying on them, it is very challenging to implement any operational improvement without having production stops and without impacting our customer service. We plan everything carefully and I rely on the very experienced Romanian team to deliver exceptional performance in due time, on every group and local program. For example, we had a project on the cardboard production machine from Ghimbav last year, that will reduce the site’s gas consumption by 12% and cut its carbon emissions by 210 tonnes CO2 per year. This steam optimization feature is a very good example of our continuous focus on improvement, as it centers on an existing machine and happens without impacting the customers,” Christian Schmidt, Managing Director DS Smith Packaging Romania said in an interview for Sustainability Today.

    How does your company approach the concept of circular economy within the packaging industry?

    We are a leading global packaging company, specialising in recyclable paper packaging. We manage around 6 million tonnes of material each year for recycling, which is more material recycled than we use to produce the packaging we sell.

    We operate a circular business model, helping our customers with packaging and recycling services to close the loop over many packaging life cycles.

    We source and produce 100 per cent recycled or chain of custody certified papers to protect natural resources and ensure sustainable forest management.

    Integrated Recycling, Paper and Packaging divisions put us right at the heart of the circular corrugated system.

    How does your company approach the concept of circular economy within the packaging industry?

    In Romania, sustainability is integral to our business, and we are very fortunate to have 3 divisions in the country, offering a unique closing the loop opportunities to our customers.

    Guided by our Circular Design Principles and leveraging our Circular Design Metrics, we are helping our customers embrace circularity by removing 1 billion pieces of problem plastics and optimising fibre use for individual supply chains. 

    We will continue to manufacture 100 percent recyclable or reusable packaging and will test reuse pilots, innovating into new areas. By 2030, we aim for all our packaging to be recycled or reused, and to send zero waste to landfills.

    By 2025, Optimise fibre for individual supply chains in 100 percent of new packaging solutions – We have a dedicated tool for that, and 100 percent of Romanian designed projects are compliant​. By 2025, we will test up to 5 reuse pilots and continue to manufacture 100 percent recyclable and reusable packaging​.

    What initiatives or strategies has your company implemented to minimize packaging waste and promote the reuse and recycling of materials?

    During 2022/2023, we have optimised 64 percent of new packaging specifications for individual supply chains (26 percent in 2021/2022), driving innovation in our solutions with optimised packaging for our customers, designing our waste and pollution in the process. This involves optimising packaging for efficiency, driving savings through smart improvements for the packaging’s dimensions, shape and materials used that can be multiplied over thousands of units. This results in a lower environmental impact and/or financial savings across the customer’s supply chain.

    Supply chain data is an essential requirement in optimization. We capture high-quality data across all touch points within the supply chain to enable more precise allocation of fibre requirements and a better specified solution.

    We have further developed the methodology for analysing and assessing our customer’s supply chain data and improved the tracking of design projects. By using our sophisticated packaging performance prediction software, our packaging solutions are tailored to our customer’s individual supply chain conditions, including storage, assembly, filling, sealing, stacking and all logistic parameters.

    Our sales, marketing and innovation (SMI) community continue to proactively analyse the market to identify opportunities to replace plastics, entering into solution-oriented dialogue with customers to enable them to capitalise on trends

    We launched campaigns targeting common sources of plastic for our FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) customers, such as produce trays, bottle holders and takeaway food boxes. There are now more than 4,000 recyclable corrugated packaging solutions added to our portfolio for products sold by our customers, including e-commerce and retail.

    In more complex segments, like industrial or automotive, barriers can, for instance, protect products from moisture, water vapour, fat and grease, or scratches and help in replacing difficult to recycle materials. Our R&D & Purchasing departments work continuously on creating and sourcing water-based inks, eco-friendly vanishes, and many other sustainable materials, so that our proposed alternatives remain 100% recyclable.

    How do you collaborate with suppliers and partners to ensure the materials used in your packaging are sourced sustainably and are recyclable?

    In 2022/2023, over 99.7 percent of our manufactured packaging continued to be either reusable or recyclable, a target that we achieved last year ahead of our 2025 deadline.

    Through better design for recyclability, more materials can be kept in circulation as a result of our extensive work to reduce the non-fibre materials in our packaging solutions such as wax, barriers, and laminate. This enable our packaging to be recycled at scale.

    We believe both fibre recovered from used packaging (“Recycled Fibre”) and fibre derived from the by-products of wood processing industries (“Virgin Fibre”) have an important role to play in corrugated packaging. Each fibre can be recycled at least 25 times assuming it is not lost from the system.

    We are proactively working with our recycling customers, policy makers and trade associations to improve segregation and collection methods, whilst advocating for segregated recycling.

    Unfortunately, in some cases, the material we cannot use has to be sent to landfill, although we are finding uses for rejects to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030.

    Sending less waste to landfill has the added benefit of reducing the emissions generated by landfill waste as it decomposes, which is captured in our Scope 3 inventory.

    As we make progress on our zero waste to landfill target, our Scope 3 emissions will reduce as alternative waste destinations, such as recycling, release fewer greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere compared to waste to decompose in landfills.

    What challenges have you encountered in implementing circular economy principles within your packaging operations, and how have you addressed them?

    Having 2 brownfields in Romania that cover the entire packaging business, and three service centers relying on them, it is very challenging to implement any operational improvement without having production stops and without impacting our customer service. We plan everything carefully and I rely on the very experienced Romanian team to deliver exceptional performance in due time, on every group and local program. For example, we had a project on the cardboard production machine from Ghimbav last year, that will reduce the site’s gas consumption by 12% and cut its carbon emissions by 210 tonnes CO2 per year. This steam optimization feature is a very good example of our continuous focus on improvement, as it centers on an existing machine and happens without impacting the customers.

    Other challenging projects that we took over were creating local operational synergies between the box plants, paper mill, and recycling business so that we could promote a functional circular business model on the Romanian market. Having such a large-scale project is not easy either for us or for the customer, as it involves many departments, collaboration between experts from both sides, and a very keen eye on details, so that we don’t only implement, but track the progress and monitor on results.

    How do you measure the environmental impact of your packaging solutions, and what metrics do you use to assess progress towards circularity?

    In DS Smith Group, we created the Circular Design Principles to translate the circular economy into ‘practical techniques, tools and processes’ to help transition to circular packaging solutions. To help us achieve this, one of our Now and Next Sustainability targets is to train 100% of our designers in these principles. – Romania is ahead of this target, with 100% of designers already trained, and implementing the methodology every day.

    Our design and innovation team also created our Circular Design Metrics a new software that can quantify circularity performance for every packaging design. This gives customers a clear view of their packaging design’s circularity performance and makes it possible to compare the impact of differing solutions.

    How do you measure the environmental impact of your packaging solutions, and what metrics do you use to assess progress towards circularity?

    Given that the majority of a product’s life cycle impacts are determined at the design stage, making conscious choices to limit environmental impact is essential. Our designers and innovators work closely with our customers to ensure that waste and pollution is not created in the first place through better design.

    How do you see the role of technology evolving in the context of circular economy practices within the packaging industry?

    As a very simple example of this, one of the Smart packaging trends that we apply successfully with customers in Romania is the internal QR code. Imagine a home appliance packaging – it includes the product, the product protection that is now cardboard instead of foam, it doesn’t have a plastic protective bag anymore because we use the latest technologies in barriers, and as the next step, it won’t even include the use manual or other prints, as we can print a QR code that immediately leads the customer to relevant information. More than that, something that was previously a one-way communication becomes an engagement opportunity for the producer- as a promotion, feedback form, community enrollment, fidelity program, and the options are unlimited.

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