The shift to paper-based packaging from EPS for sustainability purposes is common these days, but it’s noteworthy in this case since the products are notoriously heavy, unwieldy, and highly breakable glass windows and frames.
Tina Mayn, Senior Vice President of Products, Innovation, & R&D at global window and skylight manufacturer VELUX, talks with PW about a recent pack format shift away from EPS, and toward corrugated.
Window manufacturer VELUX Group is converting 90% of its sloped-roof window [skylight] packaging to a plastic-free, paper-based single material in all its most popular SKUs. This will save up to 900 tonnes [992 tons] of plastic per year, the company says, and the new format will consist of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) -certified corrugated.
This transformation has led to a 13% reduction of the carbon footprint for the skylight product range and is key to delivering on the company’s overall sustainability strategy target to make its packaging single material, zero plastic, and 100% recyclable by 2030. It also marks the first step in an extensive sustainable transformation of how the VELUX Group does business and what products and solutions it brings to market. Packaging World spoke with SVP Tina Mayn about the project.
Packaging World: What kinds of plastic had been prevalent in your packaging, and are now being removed?
Tina Mayn: The main type of plastic used in our legacy window packaging was expanded polystyrene (EPS), which was by far the biggest plastic contributor in our roof window [skylight] packaging portfolio.
There are also other small plastic components being removed, for example plastic tape is now replaced by paper tape, the screw bags used to be of plastic and now they consist of paper bag, and our beipacks [extra packs for components and bracing within the larger package structure] previously made of PET are now made of corrugated.
What functions did these EPS structures accomplish? EPS was used for protection of our windows and used both as side and bottom protection, as well as a flap fixation for our handlebar and ventilation gap.
Why the switch? By removing EPS and other plastic components, VELUX customers will save time on separating and sorting packaging waste, making disposal processes both more efficient and cheaper.
As corrugated is a single material, it increases the likelihood of proper sorting when being recycled, and corrugated recycling is easier and more efficient to recycle that plastic. Previously, several materials, including different types of plastics, would require more sorting which is both more time consuming and leaves a bigger risk for mis-sorting.
Also, corrugated has a higher recycled content compared to most plastics, including EPS. It also possesses a lower carbon footprint compared to plastics and can be recycled many times. In most countries, there are very well-established recycling systems for corrugated in comparison to what is available for EPS and other plastics. The value of waste cardboard is higher than most waste plastics, which again contributes to it being properly recycled
Was any testing or validation involved to ensure the paper-based format would perform as well as the legacy EPS? Our new packaging concept has been thoroughly tested in accordance with VELUX packaging requirements. The new components have undergone the same comprehensive testing as our existing packaging. The new packaging has undergone and passed transportation testing, vibration testing, stacking testing, humidity testing, and handling testing.
How did you design the new fully corrugated pack format, and can you give us any details? VELUX has designed and specified all the new components for the packaging. We work with well-known global suppliers who supply us with the corrugated, ready to use.
The specs vary depending on the size of the roof window, its finish and glazing options (two- or three-layer glazing). For example, a bigger size/heavier roof window would require a thicker side protection compared to the smaller size/lighter roof window, in order to protect the product during transportation. The team has tested different thickness of the corrugated solution per product type and size, in order to identify which one could absorb the impact caused during the transportation phase.
Is the format self-locking, or do you use adhesive, tape, etc. to hold it all together? The new packaging incorporates a corrugated solution that includes tear tape. This can be disposed of in the corrugated waste channel in accordance with design guidelines.
Has the project met your goals? Our goal was to ensure we have a packaging concept which can be 100% recycled, whilst making disposal of packaging waste as easy as possible. Our new packaging means installers will be able to discard everything into the cardboard waste channel, instead of sorting and discarding into multiple waste channels–one a waste channel, another 100% recycling.
Corrugated comes with the advantage of being able to be recycled many times. If we make the recycling process as easy as possible, then the waste management process can ensure that the raw material is recycled – allowing us to close the loop and achieve circularity.
We receive the corrugated board ready-to-use which means all cutting and component creation is completed in advance. Overall, less space is then needed when transporting our components compared to the previous setup.
How does the project fit into larger sustainability initiatives at VELUX? At VELUX, we are committed to doing our part to achieve a more sustainable future by putting the planet and nature at the heart of our product decisions. Our packaging is an important component of our products and must therefore also be as environmentally friendly as possible. We’re proud to be significantly reducing the amount of plastic we use to package and protect our roof windows. It’s an important step towards achieving what we call the ‘Green our packaging’ sustainability target. PW