There is Often no Alternative to Wood
Most packaging is made of cardboard, carton, or plastic. For some applications, however, wood is the material of choice, such as pallets or individual transport boxes. The wood packaging industry needs around six million cubic meters annually. And worries about its future in light of PPWR legislation.
The spectrum of wood packaging is wide. It ranges from packaging for Camembert cheese to a pallet of toilet paper or a new indoor stove to a machine weighing several tons that has to be transported around the world by truck, train, ship, or plane. Above all, individual transport packaging, for example for engines, machines, or other, often bulky components, is usually made of wood. Here, individual formats, load capacities, load points, and much more must be taken into account. Therefore, it is not uncommon for the goods to be packed to be delivered first to a specialized packer, who then packs them securely. Or the latter comes to the company.
his requires a lot of wood. The German Association of Wood Packaging, Pallets, and Export Packaging (HPE), which brings together around 420 packaging companies, estimates that the industry’s demand for wood – whether for pallets, cable drums, crates, chip baskets, or other packaging materials – is approximately six million cubic meters a year. That is a full 25 percent of the lumber produced in Germany. That is why HPE is also raising its voice in the amendment of the Federal Forest Act. If further forest areas were to be put out of service, the supply could be jeopardized, fears HPE Managing Director Marcus Kirschner.
However, the industry currently sees a more acute threat from another law: the EU Packaging Regulation PPWR. Should reusable and recycling quotas also apply to transport packaging made of wood in the future, this could threaten the existence of the industry, according to Kirschner. This is because, unlike standardized items like Euro pallets, individual transport packaging would be difficult to reuse. Nor could they become the same transport packaging again in the sense of “high quality recycling” envisaged by the EU. Especially since a take-back system would hardly be feasible here.
EPAL Considered a Showcase Project
The planned empty space limit of 40 percent is also a cause for concern. If, for example, a misshapen or round product such as a turbine has to be packed in a rectangular shape, then up to 70 percent empty space could result, says Kirschner. In addition, there is often non-recyclable filling material, which is necessary to protect products from rust on their way, for example. Such special features of transport packaging in the B2B sector would have to be considered in the EU regulation, which is primarily aimed at end-customer packaging. “It’s different from a USB stick.”
And what about the eco-balance of wooden packaging in general? Between three and four billion pallets are permanently in circulation in the EU, Kirschner calculates. These store around 100 tons of CO2 equivalents – 30 kilos per pallet. In addition, wood packaging is already reused several times in a “cascade of use,” for example as chipboard in the construction sector or again as pressed board blocks. And pallets, just like cable and rope drums, are also be repaired again and again in order to circulate in the market for as long as possible.
The showcase project in this area is the Euro pallet (EPAL). Introduced by European railroads in 1961, it has established itself as the world’s largest open pallet pool. In 2021, over 100 million units were produced for the first time. With a seven-year lifespan, around 650 million can be found in circulation. With the Chinese logistics association CFLP, there are even plans to expand to Asia. This is because virtually all goods traffic worldwide is based on wooden pallets. In view of the enormous consumption of wood, alternatives are nevertheless being sought, for example in the form of paper, cardboard, or plastic pallets.
According to GVM Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (Association for Packaging Market Research), wood accounts for 22 percent of all transport packaging waste in Germany. This is mainly due to pallets. The lion’s share of just under 70 percent, however, is accounted for by cardboard and carton. Overall, transport packaging accounts for a good 30 percent of all packaging waste in Germany.
For wood packaging companys, it will now be exciting to see exactly what the wording of the PPWR will be. As expected, the consultation and subsequent trialogue process should be completed before the European elections on June 9, 2024.