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Interview with Caroli Buitenhuis

1. Why do you want to change the packaging industry? What is your drive?

I always think about the difference between the animal population and human population. If you look at animals as a whole, you’ll see there’s zero waste – everything fits into nature’s ecosystems. And then there’s us humans, producing lots of waste that overwhelms nature’s ecosystems. My drive is to make sure packaging is adapted to our ecosystems.

2. What is the definition of circular packaging?

For me, circular packaging not only means that the packaging is reusable or recyclable itself but also that the materials used are made of recycled carbon raw materials. By that, I mean that no fossil-based raw materials from under the ground are used (virgin oil, gas, or coal), but only carbon raw materials from above the ground: recycled materials, biobased materials, or CO2-based materials. And, of course, “circular” means we keep on recycling these materials.

3. Can you tell us more about the Program Circular Packaging?

Many packaging solutions used in supermarkets are very difficult to recycle, such as multilayer packaging for meat, cheese, or soup. At Brightlands Materials Center, we redesign the polymers of the packaging materials and make them recyclable. We also improve the quality of recycled material, so that it can be used in new packaging or products. We use our knowledge in the field of impact assessments (like LCA), national and international policies and recycling technologies to ensure that packaging will be suitable for the circular economy of the future.

4. Why use plastic as a material? Isn’t it better to use other materials instead of plastic?

Of course, we have to consider not using plastics at all if they’re not needed! But if we still depend on plastic as a packaging material, we should do everything to keep all the advantages of the material, such as its barrier properties, its light weight, and extended shelf life while minimizing the effects of bad disposal. At Brightlands Materials Center, we focus on how to redesign packaging, so that it can be reused or become new packaging.

5. Can circular packaging of plastics solve global environmental issues such as ocean plastic?

No, circular plastics or biodegradable plastics cannot solve these environmental issues. Plastic in our oceans is caused by poor waste management infrastructures and human behavior. We need effective, global, and united waste management infrastructures and worldwide behavioral change. But packaging also has environmental advantages if you look at how it can guarantee hygiene or prevent food loss. We should be more aware of the material’s value, as this is what makes it worth recycling into useful applications. That is what we are working on at Brightlands Materials Center.

6. Can you help companies to find solutions that offer different ways of packaging?

Yes, Brightlands Materials Center has a very strong team of experts on packaging design, material redesign, mechanical and chemical recycling, and LCA, covering every step in the packaging chain.

7. What is your most ambitious goal? How do you see the future of plastics in 2025?

Personally, I prefer long-term solutions, so I’m already looking at 2050 – whether we’ll still be using (yes) and which materials this packaging will be made of (renewable carbons). But I’m also concentrating on how we can manage to keep our materials in the loop and make sure packaging is adapted to nature’s ecosystems.

8. Why should companies contact you?

A deep understanding of packaging and the materials used to make it is needed to develop solutions for complicated, multilayer packaging. As said, we have a strong team that’s ready to help – and we’re completely independent!

More information about our Circular Packaging Program.