European authorities are increasingly considering wood as a cornerstone for developing sustainable business policies, the 68th annual congress of the European Federation of Pallet & Packaging Manufacturers (FEFPEB) heard.

Addressing the three-day event in Maastricht, the Netherlands in October, Marianne Muller of the European Commission’s department of the environment, gave an update on the Circular Economy Package and the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC, which began in mid-October. Wood was the sector “where we have the most striking example of what a circular economy means”, said Ms Muller.

Circularity was now a priority in Europe, she said, meaning that rather than environmental protection and economic growth being mutually exclusive, they were now interlinked.

In questions following Ms Muller’s presentation, former Dutch Packaging and Pallet Industry Association president Peter Rikken said the EU needed to go further in its support for wood, which he said was the only truly renewable and sustainable material.

“I don’t understand why wood is still in the same summing up as glass, metals and plastics which are synthetic and made with huge amounts of energy,” he said. He added that in a recent Dutch raw materials life cycle analysis, the worst performing wood products performed better.

than the best-performing plastic products. “Wood is the only material that grows from the earth. It’s the only material that absorbs CO2 from the environment,” he said. Ms Muller said she understood and that attention had tended to focus on “the most problematic areas” such as plastics. She recommended the industry raise its concerns formally with the EC.

In a presentation entitled The EU: 25 years since the Maastricht Treaty/The future of the EU, Mathieu Segers, professor of contemporary European History and European Integration at the University of Maastricht, asked “What is Europe?”. He argued that successful industries such as pallets and packaging were the by-product of a clear political idea of what Europe was, and should be.

In a world of growing uncertainties such as Brexit, he said, it was imperative to re-engage with European ideals and “rediscover European integration as a source of strength that can help us to weather today’s storms”. FEFPEB president Rob van Hoesel reminded delegates of the 70-year history of wooden pallets and packaging.

While no-one should take their business for granted, he said, the signs for wood were increasingly positive. Plastics were struggling to solve their rubbish problem, while wood remained the only material with no negative footprint on the environment.

Mr van Hoesel said despite the challenges, the industry should “trust in the future”. Secretary-general Fons Ceelaert updated the congress on FEFPEB’s work in areas including ISPM 15, where it is campaigning for more harmonisation in the wood-marking schemes of different countries; industry statistics; public relations; and liaising with the industry worldwide, not least as part of the Global Forum, where FEFPEB is taking a central role in defending wood as a raw material.

The issue of Brexit was also covered at the congress. Jeroen Lammers, director economic affairs of the Netherlands employers’ umbrella federation, said the Dutch could play a key bridging role between the UK and the EU to ensure Brexit was executed in a positive manner and avoided a cliff-edge scenario that was not in anybody’s interests.

“We have a lot at stake and a lot to lose,” he said. “We need member states to give a bit of room to the UK. Offer them a warm shoulder instead of a cold shoulder and see if we can get something in place so we are not heading for the cliff edge.”

Professor Walther Ploos van Amstel gave a glimpse into the logistics of the future. This included “platooning”, where one or two self-driving lorries would follow a vehicle with a driver; automated picking in warehouses and the arrival of logistics technology that worked in a similar way to taxi firm Uber.

Other speakers included Jan Kurth, secretarygeneral of German trade association HPE, on software calculation programme CASE Express; René van Vliet, CAPE, on robotics and automisation in the manufacture and repair of pallets; Jan Oldenburger, Probos managing director, on Dutch forests and the forest sector in the bio economy/scenarios until 2030, with an international bio-economy perspective; and Gabriel Robert, Institut Technologique FCBA, on further development of an infra-red spectroscopy tool for ISPM 15 compliance.

The congress also included visits to PKF/ Post Pallets BV and Meilink BV. Gold sponsors of the event included BES Bollmann/KARA Energy Systems, Cape, CHEP Equipment Pooling, Ecobloks, Eirebloc, EPAL, Euroblock, Itech, Corali, Storti, NWPCA and Cathild Industrie. Silver sponsors were Lonza, Houtimport Kuhn, Baltic Block, Joh. Friedrich Behrens AG, BASF Wolman and LPR, while the professional tour lunch was sponsored by Connec3, Lubox, Smartt and Deltahout.