Creative paper trends: How are sustainble aspirations impacting fine papers?

Christel Trinquier

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Creative paper trends: How are sustainble aspirations impacting fine papers?

When it comes to sustainability, paper is everywhere. Recycled variants are moving upmarket with improved print quality, while alternatives to wood pulp are reinforcing their presence. The paper industry as a whole is devising new functionalities to carry the day in the packaging industry's desire to reduce its dependence on plastics.

FSC, PEFC, ECF, TCF: whether they sport labels like Blue Angel, Nordic Swan, CO2-Neutral, or Cradle to Cradle (as do Lessebo, Gmund, and Mondi), paper manufacturers are multiplying sustainability guarantees for their clients. Here, as in other sectors, sustainable development is synonymous with using recycled materials, whether post- or pre-consumer, and this applies to all papermakers—even if some have yet to develop a dedicated range.

Arjowiggins’s wide range of creative papers includes roughly 100 references composed of 25 to 100% recycled fibers available in the papermaker’s iconic lines. However, at Fedrigoni, paper made of recycled materials (from pre-consumer papers) were recently added to the Materia Viva line. The company has brought together a selection of papers, reworking and adding new references to create a collection of nine families of fine papers with a recycled content of up to 100%. Free Life Cento Extra-White, an extrawhite offset, demonstrates just how much progress has been made in terms of appearance since the 2000s.

James Cropper’s Rydal line (available in 40 and 100% PCW), a new logo for Favini’s Paper From Our Echosystem (used to denote the most ecological collections on the market), and Gmund’s Used line all illustrate just how ubiquitous recycled materials have become, even in tissue paper. At Jung Verpackungen, recycled paper comes in blinding white (75% pre-consumer waste) and intense colors, in sheets and rolls, and in a SilkFill version that offers a premium alternative to plastic divider solutions.

Today, paper is the preferred ally in the global effort to reduce the use of plastics. And that doesn’t include recent packaging developments around molded fiber and paper bottles and tubes. Chromatogeny is an innovation developed by France's Centre Technique du Papier that makes it possible to create hydrophobic papers without affecting their recyclability. Papermakers are using it in various forms and processes. Fedrigoni’s Splendorgel extra-white High Barrier Technology is one example: the waterproof paper is intended to replace plastic lamination, notably for shopping bags.

Arjowiggins’s Sylvicta, a recyclable, translucent paper with a high oxygen barrier is another option with the added benefits of being biodegradable, compostable and FSC- and PEFC-certified. This food-safe paper is suitable for all types of decoration, including offset, flexography, embossing, and foiling.

Barrier papers can also target bacteria and viruses: a virucidal and bactericidal treatment (BeSafe technology) can be applied to any type of paper in the Fedrigoni catalog. It alters neither the papers’ appearance, recyclability, nor resistance. James Cropper’s PaperGard technology delivers the same function.

In the global dash for sustainability, some papers stand out for their natural appearance. Uncoated versions are popular, and even coated papers are being conceived to mimic uncoated formats. Gmund only manufactures uncoated papers and emphasizes materials with added haptic value. Its Bio Cycle range is available in five product lines that all rely on fast-growing fibers (grass, straw, or cotton) which are used to replace up to 50% of conventional wood fibers.

Within the range, the hemp-based Gmund Hanf collection is now available in 100% hemp, a set of papers with extra-long fibers that offer increased mechanical resistance. Several papermakers have taken the same approach with alternative fibers: Jung’s grass papers include 30% grass fibers, Mondi’s IQ Grass + Packaging is also made with 30% grass fibers, and Favini’s augmented Tree Free line is made of cotton linters (25%) and bamboo (75%).

Upcycling is on the rise as brands want plant-based additives to be visible proof of their commitment to recycling. Favini's Crush line—which integrates food industry by-products such as almond, coffee, grape, and corn residues—now includes Crush Cacao, a paper that with micronized, post-roasted cocoa bean membranes to replace up to 15% of virgin cellulose.

High-end ranges Remake and Refit, also by Favini, are produced using waste from the leather and textile industries respectively. They are composed of leather scraps (up to 25%) and wool and cotton fibers (up to 15%), mixed with PCR and virgin cellulose.

James Cropper’s CupCycling technology recycles single-use coffee cups into creative papers. The British papermaker has just launch Wainwright Colors from Nature, a collection dyed with plant byproducts. The first two shades—Limestone and Herdwick Brown (pictured below)—are derived from non-edible waste from rosemary production, repurposed as dyes on FSC-certified, recycled paper. Other colors are in the works. Some will also be derived from plant by-products, while others will upcycle waste from shellfish and mushroom production. These dyes are said to be as resistant to light as their conventional synthetic equivalents.

Paper with technological added-value—like re-printable paper that can be erased and reprinted indefinitely, and interactive paper—have been under development for several years. Arjowiggins’s Powercoats (pictured below) feature electronics printed on FSC-certified, biodegradable papers that are 100% recyclable, offering an advantage compared to plastics.

Inserted between two creative papers, printed microchips can transform any kind of packaging into a connected object capable of capturing and transmitting data or to light up at the brush of a finger. The only obstacle is cost and that a smartphone is needed to activate the systems. A paper- and enzyme-based compostable bio-battery by the startup BeFC, slated to enter the industrialization phase at the end of 2022, could be a gamechanger in this area.

Pearlescent and glossy papers are giving way to papers with matte and “imperfect” finishes that convey their rugged naturalness through texture. While Jung demonstrates a clear taste for gradients and vibrant colors, Favini is open to a revival of mirror-effect papers, while emphasizing the longevity of black and white tones. At Arjowiggins, earth tones are popular (camel and limestone in the Keaykolour range) as are textured metallic with metal effects inspired by architecture (Curious Alchemy collection).

Lessebo recently launched Lessebo Texture (pictured below), a collection comprising 16 embossing patterns (canvas, leather, crepe, stucco, silk, linen, poplin, etc.) which can be combined with all Lessebo papers.

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