Moulded fibre containers full of cherry tomatoes

How moulded fibre is challenging plastic's reign in packaging

Overcoming obstacles for success by 2030

Particularly, the most recent draft of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) 1  promises a rapid increase in the market size for these products, as the penalising sections have been removed for moulded fibre packaging. However, the legislation is not set in stone, and a revision might materialise in the last metres.

Moulded fibre products are made of either recycled or virgin fibres, depending on the end-use, and offer a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional plastics. They are also recyclable in the existing waste streams and offer good enough attributes for many products that have traditionally been made from plastics.

The largest driver for the use of moulded fibre products in Europe is the upcoming PPWR, which affects not only plastic packaging but the entire packaging landscape. The PPWR draft has undergone several changes in the past years, initially proposing a ban on all single-use packaging products in the hospitality industry, including fibre-based materials.

The latest version, however, specifies that only single-use plastic packaging for food and food service products will be banned from 2030 onwards. Significantly strengthening moulded fibre’s position, products that must be made from recyclable materials by 2030 include:

  • clamshells (takeaway boxes)
  • vegetable and fruit trays
  • disposable coffee cup lids

In addition, it is not only regulations that drive the use of moulded fibre products; large brand owners, such as Subway, McDonald’s and Burger King, have also committed to reducing GHG emissions and single-use plastics to signal their dedication to more environmentally friendly packaging.

Moulded fibre plastic substitution product examples
Figure 1. Examples of plastic products being replaced by moulded fibre products.

Even though the future for moulded fibre packaging might look rosy at first, there are a few pain points for the segment to be able to fulfil its potential. One is the competition against other fibre-based materials such as food service board (barrier-coated cartonboard), as these are competing for the same end-uses as moulded fibre in many cases.

The second is the unsolved issues in barriers and coatings in the packaging material. For the products not to be classified as composite materials under the PPWR, plastic is restricted to 5% of the total weight of the product. Many moulded fibre products currently sold on the market for food service end-uses either exceed this ‘plastics limit’ or use chemicals that the regulation is aiming to phase out. Therefore, further innovations in the space are needed.

The third is the current production scale for moulded fibre products versus plastic. Due to the considerably lower output, 8-10 times lower compared to plastics, companies need to invest heavily into expanding their manufacturing footprint to replace the currently utilised plastics solutions for traditional thermoformed moulded fibre production.

For moulded fibre to succeed in being the go-to solution for food service end-uses and to reach a market size of 1.5 Mt by 2030 in Europe (0.8 Mt in 2022), it needs to fit the purpose of the end-use better than other fibre-based packaging solutions. Additionally, with the PPWR coming into effect in 2030, clients must pick a partner with the best technologies and innovations who can scale up production quickly. Otherwise, the risk of leaving the whole moulded fibre market undeveloped increases.

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Christoffer Lindfors - Senior Consultant, AFRY Management Consulting

Christoffer Lindfors

Senior Consultant, AFRY Management Consulting

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Christoph Euringer - Senior Principal, AFRY Management Consulting

Christoph Euringer

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