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Sustainability report 2021/2022

A Clean

PreZero’s goal is to pave the way for a clean future. As circularity is so important in the field of packaging, the Environment Division of the Schwarz Group is also working together with Koehler Paper on developing new paper and packaging. An interview with Dietmar Böhm, Member of the Board at PreZero International, about the importance of paper and the shared goals of the two partners.

“For us there is no such thing as waste, only unsorted recyclables in the wrong place.”

Dietmar Böhm Member of the Board, PreZero International

The Schwarz Group includes companies such as Lidl and Kaufland. To what extent is PreZero contributing to the sustainable development of the entire Schwarz Group?

Dietmar Böhm PreZero plays a central role in the sustainable development of the Schwarz Group. As an environmental services provider for the entire group, we are responsible for recycling management at Lidl, Kaufland, and Schwarz Produktion, for example. Everything we do is aligned with the principle that there is no such thing as waste, only unsorted recyclables in the wrong place. That is why the issue was taken up and PreZero was founded as an operative waste and recycling management company with the objective of achieving a functioning circular economy. We are active along the entire value chain. When you’re talking about recycling, you quickly get onto the subject of packaging, as a good packaging design is essential when it comes to its further recycling.

The Schwarz Group is also one of Europe’s biggest consumers of packaging, which is why packaging management has become one of our key tasks at PreZero. With PreZero Dual, we operate a dual packaging licensing system. At PreZero, we also evaluate the recyclability of the Schwarz Group’s packaging and attempt to continually improve it. This involves looking into options for using different materials, including paper. We are working with Koehler Paper and other partners in this area.

What are PreZero and Koehler working on exactly?

DB Koehler is currently working with OutNature, a PreZero brand. OutNature develops and distributes fiber and paper products for packaging solutions that are made using an environmental all-rounder: the silphium plant. The fibers required are separated from the rest of the plant, which is goes on to be used to produce biogas. These fibers are then processed so that they can be used in the production of paper and card packaging. The advantage of making paper using silphium fibers is that they can be obtained without the use of chemicals and using a relatively small amount of water and energy. In Koehler we have a partner on hand who can produce silphium paper for OutNature on an industrial scale. Since
July 2022, we have been producing paper and card using silphium fibers at the Koehler Paper mill in Greiz.

We know that this is not always an obvious choice. The paper industry normally uses pulp made from wood. Koehler was willing to try something new, and decided to give silphium fibers a chance.

Are there any particular reasons why you chose Koehler as a partner?

DB For one thing, PreZero and Koehler share the same philosophy: Both companies want to keep on improving and provide sustainable, environmentally friendly, and efficient packaging solutions for the future. What makes Koehler a particularly great partner for us is its expertise and innovative spirit, particularly in the area of packaging. Silphium fibers are just one example of how we can usefully collaborate with Koehler. We also hope that this partnership with Koehler will allow us to gain insights into state-of-the-art paper-based packaging solutions. Ultimately, we know that we need new, innovative solutions in the packaging industry. However, we can only achieve these by working with a partner who is prepared to strive for innovation and to occasionally think outside the box. Koehler has shown proof of such courage in the past, and has always actively embraced change.

What are the benefits of paper-based packaging in terms of sustainability?

DB Paper packaging is highly recyclable. That is, in part, down to the well-functioning waste collection system that exists in Germany and elsewhere. Moreover, in Germany around 80 % of paper packaging is already recycled, which is an excellent achievement. Paper is also made using renewable raw materials, and depending on the use case, it also boasts a very good environmental footprint. However, the main benefit of paper packaging is that it is looked upon very favorably by consumers. These consumers are also familiar with how to dispose of such packaging, so we can reuse this paper to make new paper. This process is somewhat more complex for other materials, and more awareness needs to be raised.

When used in the right way, paper packaging could even one day replace plastic packaging, thereby helping to reduce marine pollution, for example. This was the conclusion of a study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

PreZero sorts top-quality wastepaper at its wastepaper sorting facilities.
OutNature, a subsidiary of PreZero, processes silphium plant fibers.

What challenges do you currently see facing paper packaging?

DB Despite its many benefits, paper packaging does have limits in terms of its application. It is hard to use with moist or fatty products, which is why solutions such as composite packaging are used for these products. Composite packaging looks like paper, and does include paper, but also contains other materials such as plastic. That means it cannot always be recycled. However, I believe paper packaging has a promising future for these products too; although much more research and development needs to be done into the use of appropriate coatings, for example.

Are you working with Koehler on this?

DB Yes, we are currently working with Koehler to develop paper-based packaging with smart coatings that can be reused in a circular fashion.

“ We need new, innovative solutions in the packaging industry.”

Dietmar Böhm Member of the Board,
PreZero International

The Ellen

This charitable foundation that was founded in 2010 promotes the idea of the circular economy worldwide. The foundation is showing how the circular economy can contribute to solving global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss. All of its work is founded upon factual research.

In 2022, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation presented its comprehensive strategy for flexible packaging. This strategy includes 21 specific and urgent measures that should be implemented immediately, as well as calls for action that provide more detailed insights into the issue.

One of its findings was that when it comes to flexible packaging, using paper instead of plastic seems to be the better strategy, as this allows higher recycling rates to be achieved. In addition, synergies can be generated with systems for composting food waste. Paper-based flexible packaging could potentially also have a reduced persistence in the environment compared to plastic. According to estimates, currently available technology could be used to replace 15 % of the existing flexible plastic packaging, thereby contributing to reducing ocean pollution.

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