Innovation has always been the driving force behind SP GROUP, the first sheet producer to obtain the ECOSENSE certificate in 2017. Francisco Bernal, CEO of the company, talks about the past, present and future prospects of the firm and the sector.
1.- How was the company founded and what are the main characteristics that define it today?
The origin of it all was a family business that started by printing bags for small local businesses. At a time when the development of technologies was almost non-existent, our first foray was selling PE bags to the bakery sector since it was the most popular material at the time. With a trial-and-error philosophy, we discovered that bread spoiled very quickly packed in this material, so our interest in research started seeing what materials and uses were the most appropriate. Little by little, attending events and training sessions to learn about new developments in the sector, the business progressed and we began to expand our market from the province of Córdoba and surrounding areas to the rest of Spain. In 1985, the business has already shown to have a great potential and good growth prospects.
Since then, we have continued to advance until we have become a leading company in the sector, with factories in Spain, Poland and France, and with an upward projection that leads us to increase our turnover year after year. In addition, and in line with the trend in the sector, we have positioned as pioneers in sustainability. We have known how to understand the new market needs, adapting both our production and our business model which, together with our flexibility, are our greatest differential value within the sector.
2.- How does the ECOSENSE certification fit into your sustainability plans?
For us, the ECOSENSE certification is synonymous with sustainability, since its objective is to give transparency and visibility to the work carried out by companies in the PET tray value chain, in terms of circular economy. In this sense, its certification guarantees that a company is committed to sustainability, which directly benefits our clients.
The work done by the PLASTIC SENSE Foundation goes hand in hand with our effort to give plastic a second life, choosing to manufacture recycled packaging from materials that have already been used previously in other types of packaging, so waste is transformed into raw materials. This is the case of our monolayer rPET sheet, which comes entirely from recycled material with good mechanical and optical resistance
3.- What other innovation projects have you developed or are developing?
Despite the situation generated by the worldwide pandemic, currently SP GROUP is committed to continuing to develop new RDI projects. As example, we have our own circular economy project, TRAY2TRAY, based on the recovery of our customers’ manufacturing waste and its reuse in the manufacture of new packaging. A sustainable project thanks to which complex multilayer PET packaging waste has a new use again.
On the other hand, SP Group supports the RETRAY project, a collaborative initiative with companies and entities from the entire value chain of the PET food tray. This project is part of the Plastic Sense foundation with the aim of consolidating the recycling and recyclability of post-consumer PET trays, from the collection of municipal waste.
4.- What do you think about the plastic tax?
Like the rest of the waste generated in our society, plastics must undergo a waste management system (collection, recycling, disposal). While governments argue that the tax is necessary to stop the environmental impact generated by the littering, other voices allude that it is not an effective measure since it is not clear that the tax money raised will actually cover the purpose for which the tax was created.
In addition, everything indicates that it will be impacted on the final product and will fall on final consumers. On the other hand, the tax disadvantages us compared to imports, that do not have this tax. We believe that there are other more effective measures that affect transformers and consumers to a lesser extent.
5.- What are your goals in 2021: investments, growth, alliances …?
Our main challenge is to achieve recyclable structures that withstand thermal sterilization treatments, in addition to incorporating new semi-rigid thermoformable recyclable structures to our catalog, which allow us to maintain the upward advance of recent years. On the other hand, we would like to continue developing cutting-edge materials that comply with the guidelines set by the European Commission and that will soon be the subject of legislation. And all this responding to the demands derived from the new situation. In short, versatile, personalized and sustainable packaging.
To this effect, during the period 2020-2021 the total investment will amount to € 8M, highlighting the acquisition of new machinery such as a Miraflex Flexo HD Printer, a 7-layer balloon extruder and two laminating machines, among others. Despite the circumstances, our RDI Department keeps working on new sustainable developments and the product releases planned for 2020 will follow shortly during 2021.
6.- What are the prospects for the sector in the coming years?
Because of the pandemic, it is important to highlight that there has been a great change in consumption habits and consumer behaviors, which has given rise to new trends within the packaging sector. Now, in addition to a greater variety of sizes and shapes adapted to new needs, the consumers are looking for transparent containers that enable to see the content (the food packed) as well as personalized containers as part of the purchase experience. And all this at the same time that research continues to achieve materials capable of withstanding different thermal processes whilst being sustainable and environmental friendly.