In 2015, Valio was the first company in the world to start using plant-based cartons and announced a lofty goal: by the end of 2018, all of its gable top milk, sour milk, cream and yoghurt cartons sold in Finland will be fully plant-based. We have now achieved this goal, and these cartons are currently being made of fully plant-based materials. Next, Valio intends to expand the use of plant-based packaging in other products.
Plant-based packages reduce our carbon footprint
Valio sells in Finland roughly 250 million gable top milk, sour milk, cream and yoghurt cartons every year. This year, every single one of them will be fully plant-based. CO2 emissions, compared to traditional materials, are reduced by 3,140 tonnes every year. That is enough to drive the trip from Helsinki to Kittilä, Lapland and back over 10,000 times, says Valio’s packaging development manager Tanja Virtanen-Leppä.
The cartons’ cardboard and plastic parts are all made of plant-based materials. Cartons are made of wood-fibre cardboard. The renewable plastic used to make the caps and to line the carton is made from plant ethanol, which is a side flow of the sugarcane industry. There needs to be a thin layer of plastic to make sure the liquid stays fresh in the carton.
Valio aiming for carbon-neutral milk
The package’s share of the product’s environmental effect is surprisingly small. A majority of a dairy product’s carbon footprint is created in primary milk production, that is, before the milk collection truck arrives at the dairy. That is why Valio is aiming towards a carbon-neutral milk. In the spring of 2019, Valio and the Baltic Sea Action Group will begin to train dairy farms in carbon farming: the farms will be taught new ways to bind carbon to the soil and to share existing good farming practices. The energy in cow manure can also be used to replace fossil fuels in the future.
Aiming for reduced total environmental effect
Valio aims towards making all of its gable top cartons out of renewable plant-based material. We are currently studying ways to make plant-based juice cartons. Juice cartons use a thin layer of special plastic that protects the vitamin C in the juice.
“Development of the juice carton plastic layer has gone well, and we will be able to produce nearly 100% plant-based juice cartons as soon as this year. Our goal is to be smart about reducing our total environmental effect: the right kinds of packages protect the products and prevent food waste, and plant-based packaging reduces the products’ carbon footprint. We are also increasing our use of recycled raw material, and encourage consumers to recycle our packaging correctly.”
“Valio’s packaging development is guided strongly by the fact that people want our packages to be fully plant-based. There are also packages on the market that are only partially plant-based, with part of the raw material being fossil. In these solutions, the calculated share of plant-based material is based on the mass balance of the raw materials, not 100% renewable materials: the plastic is made with fossil oil and only a small part of the raw material is actually plant-based,” concludes Virtanen-Leppä.
In addition to Valio Finland, Valio Sweden has already changed its yoghurt cartons to plant-based packages. The next step is to move also other milk products into plant-based packaging.