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Exploring ways to reduce carbon footprint of packaging materials

Photo of a juice carton and human hands.
“You need to build deep knowledge and do academic research in parallel with industrial development. Programs like WISE provide this opportunity,” says Tetra Pak’s Eva Gustavsson. Photo: Gunnar Menander

Tetra Pak and Lund University join forces in a shared research project as part of WISE (The Wallenberg Initiative Materials Science for Sustainability), the largest-ever research initiative in materials science in Sweden. In this project, the target is the research and development of packaging materials that are fully recyclable and that contribute to reducing the CO2 footprint.

According to the World Bank climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approach, ”global food demand is estimated to increase to feed a projected global population of 9.7 billion people by 2050.” The world’s population is growing, thus increasing the demands on food production and availability. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that farmers must produce 70% more food by 2050.

“To achieve this, we need sustainable and safe food systems. It is therefore crucial to develop new material solutions that can provide food protection and at the same time be renewable, fully recyclable, and have a low carbon footprint”, says Eva Gustavsson, Vice President of Materials & Package, Tetra Pak.

Research on new sustainable material solutions is key

Together with Lund University, Tetra Pak aims to address the challenge of exploring new packaging barrier solutions that protect food and have a low impact on the environment. The barrier in the package plays an important role in protecting the packaged food’s nutrition. The research project aims to understand which new materials can perform this function and the mechanisms behind them. This will help improve the detailed design of the new material solutions.

“Research on new sustainable material solutions is key for the packaging business and for Tetra Pak as a whole. For WISE, which focuses on materials science for sustainability, it aligns with one of the key themes that target circularity,” says Eva Gustavsson.

She adds that to meet future challenges with sustainable material solutions, it is important for industry and academia to work closely together and combine skills and knowledge:
“To be fast and do things right the first time you need to build deep knowledge and do academic research in parallel with industrial development. Programmes like WISE provide this opportunity, helping us develop new solutions faster and with better quality.”

You need to build deep knowledge and do academic research in parallel with industrial development.

Educating top-class material specialists is one of the ambitions of the WISE program. Being close to this group of talent is also of high value for future hiring.

Maria Messing, project leader from Lund University adds:
“Currently, we are successfully identifying people and infrastructure at Tetra Pak as well as Lund University to be able to manufacture and characterize the new barrier solution, which consists of both polymers and inorganic materials. This effort requires people with knowledge of different material science backgrounds.”

Network of material specialists

“We are very excited about being part of the WISE program, it is a fantastic opportunity for us and our employees to be within this network of material specialists. We are in the process of starting up this project and we are looking forward to the insights and knowledge it will bring. We certainly hope for opportunities to extend to new projects in the future, concludes Eva Gustavsson.