Before I ask you about straw-based packaging, can you explain who YFYJupiter and YFY are?
YFYJupiter is a full service brand packaging company. We offer creative and graphic design, structural engineering, testing, global project management solutions and print management. We do a lot of work in retail driven packaging.
YFY is our parent company. They are very diverse. For this conversation, I’ll focus on YFY’s packaging division. One of the largest packaging converters in greater China, YFY is integrated with technology platforms, science and paper making technologies. It was YFY scientists who developed the proprietary process to turn straw into pulp and paper.
YFYJupiter is marketing and distributing this pulp through our subsidiary company Mobius105. We are also using the straw pulp and paper to develop environmentally sustainable packaging solutions for our own customer base.
How do you make pulp and paper out of straw?
It’s an interesting process. In simple terms, waste paper and wood-based materials traditionally used to make pulp are replaced with straw.
The groundbreaking component is the method by which the straw fibers are broken down. Traditional pulping methods employ harsh chemical processes. This new proprietary enzymatic process eliminates the harsh chemicals. It is similar to the way nature digests straw in a cow's stomach. The process uses up to 40% less energy and 90% less water than traditional methods.
Once you have the pulp and paper you can proceed as you normally would; molding inner packaging components from the pulp or converting the board to finished outer packaging.
Where does the straw come from?
Straw is collected from regional farms in China, specifically in the Jiangsu Province near the pulping and milling facilities.
Since the straw is collected locally, as apposed to bringing in waste paper from the US for example, the carbon footprint of the entire paper and packaging manufacturing process is greatly reduced.
Here is another remarkable benefit of Npulp. In the past, after the grain harvest, the residual straw was burned off as waste. By collecting the straw to use for packaging, we are preventing millions of tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
How did the idea for straw paper and packaging come about?
It started over ten years ago with the amazing leadership at YFY. They are always looking for and developing new technologies for sustainable paper.
Making environmentally-frinedly paper from straw was not an entirely new idea. In fact, many other paper companies had tried, but failed. YFY took up the challenge and, working in their laboratories in Taiwan, developed the special enzyme and process.
Then, around two years ago, I attended an annual innovation meeting sponsored by one of our customers, a large US-based IT and computer manufacturer for whom we produced a range of packaging.
As always, we were being challenged to develop packaging solutions which aligned with the customer’s sustainability goals. Npulp based packaging seemed like a natural fit.
Working closely with their procurement and engineering teams, we formulated pulp and paper to meet their goals. To make matters interesting, all of this development was taking place at the same time YFY’s manufacturing facility was ramping up, including the construction of a new green field mill and converting facilities in Yangzhou, China.
How has the response been to Npulp based packaging?
Interest in straw based Npulp packaging has been tremendous. Even prior to launch, we had companies contacting us wanting to discuss how they could use Npulp in their packaging programs. They wanted to know our projected roll-out date, what our expansion plans were etc., before we had even produced anything outside the lab.
Now that production is underway, it seems every day we talk with someone with a keen interest in Npulp. When you think about it, if Npulp is a good fit for your brand packaging, there is no downside to the decision to make the switch. This is a win for manufacturers, brands AND the environment.
What would be an example of Npulp not being the right fit?
Npulp is brown – like kraft paper. Some brand owners would not find this suitable for their primary packaging.
That is not to say you cannot bleach Npulp but, doing so would defeat its environmentally friendly objective. We have other solutions for brand owners who want to be environmentally friendly, yet still want to print on high quality, bright white paper stocks.
First of all, YFY and YFYJupiter are both based in Asia. YFY is headquartered in Taiwan and YFYJupiter in Hong Kong. Together we operate numerous design and manufacturing facilities throughout Mainland China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
It is only natural to develop the Npulp facilities in our own back yard first. Many of our retail customers source goods (and packaging) from Mainland China. And, a large portion of our IT customers also have vendor and manufacturing interests in China.
What are your future, global plans for Npulp?
Since Npulp is made of straw, there is an abundant supply of raw material waiting for us in many regions all around the globe. So it would seem to make sense to set up production in other regions, especially in areas where the demand for packaging is high.
I could imagine facilities in Mexico, Europe, the United States… who knows where? Surely the expansion plan will unfold as we listen and respond to our customers’ needs. Our exceptional success, to date, is due in large part to our willingness to listen and respond to our customer's needs. That is something we've no plans to change.
How will you measure the success of Npulp five years from now? Ten years?
Three ways come to mind. First, I would be very excited to see this technology introduced into other locations around the world. Broader availability would allow us to better serve our customers with global operations. On a personal level, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is getting to work globally. I truly enjoy meeting and interacting with people from different cultures. So if the opportunity presents itself, I would leap at the chance to champion the effort.
Second, we want to see the Npulp pulping process, paper making energy and efficiencies continue to improve. In the laboratory, YFY has been testing and will soon be able to manufacture higher quality papers with Npulp including outer liner boards. To meet performance criteria for these higher quality papers, however, Npulp is currently being blended with other materials including waste paper, wood pulp and so on, just like most traditional papers for similar applications. The blend ratio of Npulp used will gradually increase over time, using less and less of those other materials. As a brand owner, I think it would be really cool someday to be able to simply say 100% of my packaging is produced from straw – 100% Npulp!
Finally, who knows how we could stretch the limits of Npulp beyond packaging? Could Npulp be used as a material for construction? What other uses could there be? It will be interesting to see how Npulp develops in both in terms of a business model and as a product. We are on the cusp of something really big. The journey has just begun and we can hardly wait to see how far it will take us.
END OF INTERVIEW
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