“Students will become the future consumer generation who will understand the significance of sustainable living. If
you target this market now, then this will be the future of your business.”
Packaging plays a crucial role for many product based businesses, but a large majority of global businesses still resort to wasteful plastic or paper based options which have a negative impact on the environment. PaperFoam provide a useful solution for this. The Netherlands based business started in 1998 and since then they now employ over 100 people across the world with offices in China, Malaysia, America and the Netherlands. This firm uses sustainable, low carbon and recyclable materials in place of paper and plastic mainstream alternatives. Starch, natural fibres, water and premix are all combined to produce the effective packaging moulds which are also biodegradable. Along their sustainable journey they have been credited with the 2015 Dieline Award. Their packaging can be used for: electronics, medical equipment, dry food, cosmetics and many other possibilities. This week Emily O’Dowd spoke with Mark Geerts, the CEO of PaperFoam who explains exactly what led him to the business and the ambitious sights he has set for the next five years.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Mark Geerts (MG): Before beginning at PaperFoam, there were a group of us who were employed by an IT firm which worked on behalf for a potato starch company. We became involved in some of the technical projects which focused on how bio-plastics could be made from starch. But finally the starch company decided to end the project as they could not make the business profitable. At that moment a group of us at the IT company decided to take on the risk and transformed it into what is now PaperFoam. We started the company in 1998 but it still operated as a small project many years before just not as we know it today. When we took on the venture, the concept of PaperFoam was very new to the packaging industry because environmental factors weren’t considered a real problem. So we made the first steps in the industry before anyone else; we realised that something
needed to change.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
MG: I enjoy being part of the environmental community that develops eco-friendly products and caters for customers who want to make changes to their buying habits by choosing modern alternatives which use new sustainable materials. I am happy to work with a group of enthusiastic people from my colleagues, to my customers and my suppliers.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in the industry?
MG: PaperFoam is still a new concept to most people in the packaging industry. To begin with we faced the problem that the product was too new and this meant that we couldn’t predict how consumers would respond to the product. Only a few people were familiar with the technology that we used. I would say that the biggest problem that we found is trying to promote the benefits of purchasing our products which are just as good, if not better from existing packaging products on the market, and 100% sustainable. Although we don’t have many competitors in the market who use environmentally friendly resources like PaperFoam, most of our competition still comes from conventional packaging materials like paper and plastics.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable industry?
MG: I would say it is important to be very confident about your own product. Show the world that it is worthy by targeting the right customers who will then encourage other people to use it. Another is the importance of education. Students will become the future consumer generation who will understand the significance of sustainable living. If you target this market now, then this will be the future of your business as people make more informed decisions about sustainable packaging.
EOD: What single change would help develop the sustainable industry further?
MG: What has been beneficial for PaperFoam are the changes that have already been made in legislation which have placed bans on polluting materials. As a result, it has helped us grasp the public’s attention about waste and the worldwide national awareness that the environment is important for us all. Also publications like Bio-Based World News and the digital side of the industry is helping to spread the importance and necessity of bio-based products to get people talking as well as networking.
To improve the industry further however, I would suggest that the governments should implement stricter guidelines about waste plus additional subsidies for new bio-based start-ups. This would inspire more people to enter the industry.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
MG: We are working hard to expand the business. At the moment, PaperFoam only operates in a limited amount of locations but we are looking into bigger markets. For example, if you are in the UK you would have travel to the Netherlands and in the US you have to go to the East Coast. We are ambitious and want to expand across the world with more production factories and sales locations. We have already started to reach out to Asia; we now have a factory in China as well as Malaysia. Work is being started on a third site in this region as well as another in the UK. At PaperFoam we will continue to educate new customers about what we do, our materials and our methods of production. Alongside this, in the next couple of months we plans to send a new personnel team to help promote our product and our business to help us expand.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
MG: That’s a good question! I was looking in the newspaper yesterday and I read that they are building a bridge in the Netherlands – the world’s first bio-based bridge. It’s nice to see how many conventional operations are becoming bio-based. In this case there were 5/6 local governments working together from 15 different companies that shows how progress can be made when a large network comes together.
EOD: Thank you for your time today Mark and I wish you success with PaperFoam's ambitions for the future.
Bio-Based World News will bring this new 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week's 5 minutes with... Sophie Mather, Material Futurist at Biov8tion
Next week's 5 minutes will feature... Llana Taub, Co-Founder of Snact
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