Paboco, the Paper Bottle Company, is out to shake up packaging norms with its first branded paper bottle slated for launch in 2021. Currently in a start-up, scale-up phase, the Danish company’s “pioneer community” is a joint venture between BillerudKorsnäs and ALPLA, while industry giants L’Oréal, Coca Cola, Carlsberg and the Absolut Company are partners. Chief Commercial Officer Gittan Schiöld and Business Development Manager Michael Michaelsen discuss how Paboco aims to reach its goal of offering a 100% recyclable and bio-based bottle to the market.
How did Paboco get started?
MM: The company debuted with EcoXpac, a Danish R&D player, in which Nordic paperboard supplier BillerudKorsnäs invested in a minority share in 2015, bringing R&D support and resources around pulp and barrier development. At that point, ecoXpac was focused on technical and process development and BillerudKorsnäs on the paper component of the project. When it came time to move from prototyping to scale, we rebranded as Paboco, the Paper Bottle Company and sought out experts in the field of building machinery and manufacturing bottles, which is when ALPLA came into the picture. Today Paboco is a joint venture between BillerudKorsnäs and ALPLA, while the Danish founding family retains a minority share.
What role does your “pioneer community” play in development?
GS: With the community as a whole, including the “parents” (BillerudKorsnäs and ALPLA), we are looking to establish a new packaging system from scratch. It’s a big industry project that aims to represent the entire value chain: raw materials (BillerudKorsnäs), machine building and manufacturing (ALPLA), Paboco and the initial inventors at ecoXpac, and of course the market representatives (Carlsberg, Coca Cola, L’Oréal, the Absolut Company), because if the market hadn’t shared the risks or invested early on, the industry would never innovate at all.
MM: Our pioneer community represents quite a new way of working. These market representatives are valuable to us in light of their massive market insight; they know what consumers are looking for and what is needed to make a sustainable and lasting change on the market. This collaborative effort is helping us get the bottle to market more quickly.
However, the community doesn’t just work with Paboco, they collaborate among themselves as well and this information sharing is also helping the market prepare for a new packaging format.
There are other paper bottles coming to market. What is different about Paboco?
MM: Paboco has a unique way of forming and manufacturing the paper bottle that results in ‘strong’ and unique shapes due to the strength of the paper, which is the origin of the pack’s function. The paper is responsible for most of the job our bottle is doing; anything else in terms of fluid resistance or gas barrier resistance only needs a minimal amount of material to be implemented.
You underline the strength of the paper; does that mean you are only using virgin fibers?
MM: The technology can use both virgin and recycled paper, but as of today we use virgin for two reasons: the legislative landscape regarding food contact and the traceability of the material. Our FSC-sourced fibers come from BillerudKorsnäs (we’re also in the process of becoming an FSC certified organization) but there is no exclusivity agreement per se.
What can you tell us about the barrier technology inside the paper bottle?
MM: First of all, Paboco’s paper bottle is a “generational” journey. Today our aim is to be able to introduce something that has a beneficial impact as an alternative packaging. Generation one combines two technologies: our paper bottle forming and the use of recycled PET that supplies the barrier layer. We are reducing our reliance on non-renewable materials by using the strength of the paper itself, which means using less of a barrier.
Generation one also means that the bottle can conform to existing operations, like filling lines or logistics, closure or decoration systems.
What is the ratio between paper and the barrier?
MM: We currently have multiple designs and the ratios vary for each depending on the function. What we can say is that it is majority paper.
So despite the RPET barrier, it is fully recyclable in the paper stream?
MM: That’s right. The paper can be recycled as the two materials are separable. There is no interlocking layer in a Paboco paper bottle, only a mechanical one, so by using a bit of elbow grease, even the consumer can take the two apart.
Is your aim to reduce the ratio of the RPET barrier with future generations?
MM: Ultimately, our goal, and that will be generation 3, is to replace the RPET entirely with an integrated bio-based solution—that’s our vision for a fully recyclable and bio-based paper bottle. We’ve done significant research to attain a very strong fiber network so that our bottles require less of a barrier.
Is production meant to be a plug-in solution to existing lines, such as plastic injection?
GS: No, it requires different machinery. ALPLA has years of expertise in molds, tools and machine conception, and with ecoXpac’s expertise the aim is to create a process for paper. It’s important to note that the invention was built from scratch.
What is the cost differential between a plastic bottle and a Paboco bottle?
GS: We are still in a co-development phase with our clients, so we can’t get into specifics, but there will be a cost premium. Yet the materials we work with are quite cost-efficient and if we consider this technology at scale, it could very well become a competitive solution.
Will the first bottle be branded?
MM: Absolutely! That’s another function of our pioneer companies: to bring the paper bottle to market in their respective categories. You’ll discover who the first will be in 2021!
* Life cycle analysis
See the upcoming winter issue of our sister magazine Formes de Luxe for the complete interview.