Consumer preferences for paper packaging are strengthening the circular economy, said Michael P. Doss, president and CEO of Graphic Packaging International, in his keynote address at the 2022 SFI Annual Conference in June.
“Eighty-seven percent of consumers prefer fiber-based packaging over plastic,” said Doss. And in response, “A lot of our big customers are making some huge commitments in terms of their packaging—they want to do the right thing. But it’s actually the end-use consumer that’s driving this, because consumers are saying that they want to support brands that are doing the right thing for our environment. And they’ll use their purchasing dollars to drive that change, that momentum.”
Doss is chair of the SFI Board of Directors.
Graphic Packaging has 130 manufacturing facilities around the world, all of which are SFI-certified. The company reported $7.2 billion in net sales in 2021; its primary markets are in North America and Europe. Graphic Packaging procures more than 8 million tons of softwood fiber and 2 million tons of hardwood fiber each year, all of which is SFI certified. It produces about 4.5 million tons of paperboard each year and makes a number of types of consumer packaging, such as coffee cups, cereal boxes, folding food cartons, and food trays and bowls.
More than 450 of Graphic Packaging’s customers put SFI certification labels on their products, Doss said.
Doss explained that SFI’s focus on sustainability “intersects with a number of different aspects of the environmental, social, and economic aspects of what we [at Graphic Packaging] do every day.”
“It’s our honor to be able to serve a long list of blue-chip customers,” Doss said. “We’ve had relationships with some of them for well over 50 years, and that really allows us to invest behind them and drive sustainability, finding ways to help their supply chains get greener each and every year. This is important because those blue-chip customers really want to ensure that the growing, harvesting, and overall land management of the forests where that fiber comes from actually has been done the right way. That’s a promise that they’re making to the end-use consumer.”
Sustainability is gaining real momentum in the US, Doss said, and consumers increasingly demand sustainable, recyclable packaging and containers.
“I like to talk about the fact that we are part of a circular economy,” he said. “Sixty-eight percent of all the paper and paper packaging that was made last year in the United States is recovered. It’s actually higher than 90 percent for OCC [old corrugated containers], the containerboard side. That’s a high collection rate. There is no other substrate out there, other than aluminum, that is close. How does that compare to plastics? The recovery of plastic containers is in the low teens.”
Recovered paper can be recycled as many as five to seven times, Doss said, adding that Graphic Packaging has spent nearly $600 million building a paper recycling plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“That is the circular economy in motion, and at the very top of it is SFI.” Doss said. “But beyond that, SFI is much more than just a label. It promotes sustainability through collaboration, and that’s why we at Graphic Packaging are such big supporters of SFI.”