Redesigning Plastic from the Land of Wood

Woodly

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action

Overview

Woodly is carbon neutral plastic made from wood cellulose which is sourced from sustainably managed forests. The material is 100% recyclable and can be used the same way as traditional fossil-based plastic, but Woodly is also compatible with existing manufacturing technology, so there is no need for new plants and/or infrastructure.

The company’s material innovation meets the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN numbers 9, 12 and 13. Woodly promotes sustainable industry and consumption by using renewable wood as a raw material of their innovative product. Moreover, the material is carbon neutral and therefore also supports climate action.

Authors

Laura Strömberg

Laura Strömberg

Oskar Vierula

Oskar Vierula

Henri Vaajoensuu

Henri Vaajoensuu

School

Hanken School of Economics

Hanken School of Economics

Professor

Jouni Virtaharju

Jouni Virtaharju

Innovation

Plastic is used everywhere, and why it should not be? It is easy to make, light and durable. However, in recent years, humankind has realized that the use of plastic does have a negative impact on many different things. It is made from fossil-based feedstock, has a relatively large carbon footprint, and is not that easy to recycle due to high durability. Woodly produces carbon-neutral, or even slightly carbon negative, plastic that can be used like traditional plastic made from crude oil. The material is mostly made from wood cellulose, and the wood is gathered from FSC certified forest.

The product is easily scalable as it can be produced in the same facilities where traditional plastic is made. The use of existing manufacturing infrastructure also positively impacts the environment as there is no need to build new infrastructure, and the product can be made everywhere. Ideally, the product is made in locations where there is sustainable wood cellulose available and a need for plastic. Woodly is rather a technology company than a manufacturer as they do not produce plastic themselves, and different industrial partners are responsible for the manufacture.

As mentioned before, the material is mainly made from cellulose polymer. It can be made 100% from natural resources, but currently, Woodly is made 40-60% from natural resources because all the natural materials needed to achieve full potential are not made at an industrial scale. It is Woodly’s short-term goal to produce the material from 100% bio-based content.

Redesigning Plastic from the Land of Wood

Inspiration

Woodly's story began in 2011 as its founders felt that the plastic industry must change. They say that the food waste problem was increasing, and there was not really an ecological solution for plastic wrapping for food packaging. The founders, led by Marko Parkkinen, chose to focus on making a cellulose deprived plastic film (also known as a clingy wrap) to replace traditional fossil-based options. Even though they were able to produce a version of the cellulose-based plastic film, they saw it was not going to be a scalable option. But while researching, they found out cellulose deprived plastic in other forms was possible to make at an industrial scale and the innovation was easily scalable.

In 2017 Jaakko Kaminen, the current CEO of Woodly, joined the company. His role was to be the commercial lead of the company as they pivoted to bio-plastics, generally from the niche plastic film sector. Jaakko tells that he was inspired to work in a company where you can actually help the world tackle its biggest problems. For a leader, it is exciting to be in a company where you can actually help the world.

Overall impact

Woodly’s products are aiming to accelerate the shift of the plastics economy to a sustainable future by bringing wood based and recyclable products to the market. To prove the impact on the environment, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study carried out by a consulting company named AFRY to Woodly’s material grades demonstrates that Woodly materials have a negative Global Warming Potential i.e. carbon footprint. This study follows the regulations and guidelines of two ISO standards and indicates that Woodly material grades are carbon neutral.

By providing this alternative product material to the consumer market, consumers can themselves make the decision to influence the climate and choose the sustainable product. Moreover, companies who use packages in their businesses can show their sustainable values with the material and attract more customers. When the first ones in the market are showing the way and creating the demand, the rest of the industry and market will follow.

According to the European Strategy for Plastics released in 2018, by 2030 all plastics packaging placed on the EU market must be either reusable or easily recyclable. Therefore, the long-term aim of Woodly's innovation is to strive for a circular economy to create a sustained impact on the global packaging market.

Business benefit

Woodly cooperates with the Finnish company Kesko, which has been chosen as the world’s most responsible retail company in 2021 by Global 100 ranking. They commercially launched flower packages to home markets in 2020 made of Woodly-based plastic wrapping instead of oil-based plastic. Other products sold via Kesko’s stores can also utilize Woodly’s packaging - i.e. Vihreäkeiju brand already uses this carbon-neutral packaging method. Companies that cooperate with Woodly recognize the importance of sustainable consumption and see it as a growing phenomenon. By offering sustainable packaging methods, Woodly creates possibilities for traditional companies operating in different industries to move towards more sustainable business actions.

The business idea behind Woodly is based on the belief that the appreciation for sustainable values increase in the future, it will consequently lead to more demand for sustainable packaging methods. This motivates new research in the industry and also attracts new investors. However, much depends on governments and decisions made in the EU, for example, in terms of laws and regulations since they immediately affect profitability, especially in the long term. Woodly’s has been focusing on investments in research & development as well as marketing and sales. Note that Woodly does not manufacture end products under its brand but through close partnerships with industrial businesses.

Social and environmental benefit

There is a need to move from a disposable fossil economy to a bio-based circular economy. Because Woodly products are made of renewable energy sources, i.e. wood, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, the end product has a negative carbon footprint. In other words, at the end of the production process, there is more carbon dioxide retained in Woodly than is released during its production. Whereas the traditional plastic production is the opposite, about 1.8-3.8 kg of carbon dioxide emission is generated for each kilogram of plastic produced.

The primary raw material, a softwood pulp used in Woodly’s plastic, comes from sustainable (certified) forests. The use of cellulose made from certified wood ensures that the pulp producer has taken care of the forest’s biodiversity. Woodly material can be recycled both mechanically and chemically. During mechanical recycling, the plastic is shredded, washed, melted, and granulated. The granules resulting from this process are used as a raw material for new plastic products. In chemical recycling, multiple ways can be used to recycle Woodly, including, gasification. If Woodly material ends up in incineration for some reason, the emissions are 70% lower compared with conventional plastics. To sum up, innovation has a positive impact on society and the environment.

Interview

Jaakko Kaminen, CEO

Photo of interviewee

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Woodly

Woodly

Helsinki, FI

Business Website: https://woodly.com/

Year Founded: 2011

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Woodly is a Finnish company founded in 2011 and started developing business in 2017, which produces a clear packing material from wood cellulose that replaces ordinary plastic. The company represents a sustainable industry by promoting responsible consumption of renewable materials and providing an environmentally friendly alternative for plastic.