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How WestRock is driving toward a more circular economy

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Fiber-based packaging at its core is sustainable because trees are a natural, renewable source of materials. At WestRock, we have innovated fiber-based solutions that protect both product and planet to fulfill our commitment to sustainability. Source: WestRock.

This article is sponsored by WestRock.

In the midst of a record wildfire season, an extremely active hurricane season and a global pandemic that has shifted consumer habits online, a heightened awareness of the impact we’ve had on the planet has bolstered a strong consumer-driven imperative for more sustainable packaging. 

People recognize that even in unprecedented times, we must prioritize sustainable packaging materials. Fiber-based packaging at its core is sustainable because trees are a natural, renewable source of materials and because it is intrinsically recyclable. WestRock is innovating new fiber-based packaging solutions, improving the recyclability of foodservice packaging and increasing awareness of both the recyclability of packaging and the need for responsible forestry. 

As an $18 billion-dollar global company, WestRock understands the important role it can play in driving greater sustainability in the packaging industry, for — and with — its customers. It does this by providing customers with a portfolio of sustainable fiber-based packaging options and working with them to create tailored sustainable packaging solutions to meet their individual sustainability needs. 

Every day, WestRock’s fiber-based packaging solutions deliver vital products to millions of customers, and the company is proud of the pivotal role it has played during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring consumers receive much-needed items when they need them the most. 

While there’s no single perfect solution for sustainable packaging, the company has developed a broad portfolio of fiber-based packaging solutions, including corrugated boxes, paperboard, folding cartons and more that help its customers adopt more sustainable packaging. As a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, WestRock is committed to driving sustainability through packaging and leading the way toward a circular economy future one product at a time with solutions that are renewable, recyclable or compostable, yet still meet the needs of consumers.

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San Diego-based hard kombucha maker JuneShine partnered with WestRock on its second packaging: a fully enclosed, recyclable paperboard carton. Source: WestRock.

The importance of fiber-based options 

While WestRock uses recycled wood fibers as part of its commitment to sustainability, wood fiber can be recycled only about five to seven times in packaging before it becomes too small to reuse. The ideal mix for sustainable packaging includes a combination of recycled fiber and responsibly sourced virgin fiber. In fact, introducing virgin wood products into the manufacturing system ensures the long-term sustainability of the supply chain. 

WestRock employs a rigorous and responsible sourcing process when purchasing virgin fiber. Its paper mills use virgin fiber certified through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) fiber sourcing standard, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Controlled Wood standard. 

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Currently, we are innovating to help King’s Hawaiian achieve its sustainability goals. We’re applying our Slider Tray technology to create bakery trays that replace glue with an environmentally friendly corner locking structure. Source: King's Hawaiian.

WestRock is "forest positive" where it operates, meaning the company helps sustain and grow more trees than it uses. The company knows forests play a key role in climate change by sequestering carbon while providing clean water and maintaining diversity of plant and animal species.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 58 percent of U.S. forest and woodland is privately owned. Of this private forest land, an estimated 10.6 million families, individuals, trusts and estates are collectively referred to as what we call "family forest and woodland ownerships." 

Over the last five years, WestRock foresters have directly helped small private landowners certify more than 500,000 acres to third-party land management certifications. This direct engagement is a core part of the company’s sustainability platform and ensures the continued health of the forests we all depend on. Our teams are proud of the company’s longstanding role in ensuring that forests are managed responsibly and sustainably. 

Today’s customers are savvy when it comes to sustainability, and it is a priority for them — both when it comes to the products they buy and how those products are packaged. The forest products industry provides an ideal option because fiber is renewable, strong and environmentally friendly. 

WestRock’s role in innovating sustainable fiber-based packaging solutions for its customers is to help them understand where fiber-based packaging makes the most sense for them — meaning they can keep the product safe while being sustainable. WestRock scientists and product teams constantly are developing new fiber-based solutions to reduce the use of plastic in packaging, to enhance the capacity to compost and recycle paperboard products and to develop packaging solutions that are right-sized for use and reduce waste. 

Just last month, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) announced the introduction of WestRock’s CanCollar Eco — an innovative, recyclable paperboard packaging solution — for multi-pack cans in Spain. The CanCollar Eco helps Coca-Cola remove unnecessary or hard-to-recycle plastic from its portfolio and supports CCEP’s vision to create a World Without Waste. 

WestRock also has partnered with major CPG companies to innovate all-paper, plastic-free deodorant packaging solutions — the first fiber deodorant packaging of its kind. Every step toward greater sustainable packaging is a step toward a more circular economy. 

Moving toward a circular economy 

Of course, recycling existing products is also key to the circular economy. Leveraging 18 recycling plants across the United States, WestRock recycles 8 million tons of materials per year, which exceeds its 5.5 million tons of recycled fiber consumption. The company also works to increase awareness of recyclability and educate consumers alongside partners such as The Recycling Partnership.

In 2019, to help dispel the myth that corrugated pizza boxes are not recyclable, WestRock commissioned Resource Recycling Systems (RSS) to conduct a study of the availability of recycling programs in the U.S. for corrugated pizza boxes. WestRock also recently conducted a study that concluded normal amounts of grease and residual cheese do not negatively affect manufacturing of new product from this recycled fiber. 

This study was reviewed and endorsed by member companies of the American Forest & Paper Association. To further encourage Americans to learn more, WestRock, in partnership with Domino’s, launched recycling.dominos.com — a hub of information about proper pizza box recycling. 

WestRock is thankful to Domino’s for partnering to promote the recyclability of pizza boxes. Every year, 3 billion pizza boxes, or 600,000 tons of corrugated board, enter the market. As you can see, incremental progress can have impressive impact. 

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WestRock conducted a study that concluded normal amounts of grease and residual cheese do not negatively affect manufacturing of new product from this recycled fiber. WestRock then partnered with Domino’s to launch recycling.dominos.com — a hub for information to promote the recyclability of pizza boxes. Source: WestRock.

Working together to meet customer demand

Sustainability is an ongoing and collaborative journey that the business community must take together in order to make long-lasting progress. To deliver on the promise of a sustainable future, we must do so in a way that creates long term-value, in service of and in partnership with all our stakeholders. WestRock sees its role as providing reasonable sustainable alternatives to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be. 

WestRock’s customers make different products for different audiences with different needs. They want to be sustainable, but they also want to stand out. That’s where customized sustainable solutions become so important. With its portfolio of sustainable packaging products, WestRock can help its customers imagine the ways in which they can incorporate fiber-based solutions into their packages. And with its customized sustainability solutions, WestRock can work with them to customize sustainable packages that suit their brand’s specific needs. 

WestRock’s workforce knows the path toward a more circular economy is a long one, but leveraging the breadth of our portfolio, scale, technological innovation and sustainable products, we are committed to accepting the challenge. We imagine a world that prioritizes both people and planet and invite our customers to share in that vision with us. 

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