In his first interview, Winfried Mühling, the new General Manager of Pro Carton, talks about his ideas and goals. He sees Pro Carton as an exemplary platform for the circular economy in Europe.

Let’s start with the classic questions that should always be asked when someone takes on a highly responsible position. How do you see being the new General Manager of Pro Carton as your vocation?

I have over 25 years’ experience in the international packaging industry, including more than 20 years with cartons in the FMCG, retail and waste management sectors. During this time, I have built close relationships with local as well as global market leaders from the food industry.

For me, cartonboard is not only the most sustainable packaging material, but also a social mandate to promote environment-friendly packaging. And, of course, to support forestry: protecting existing forests and expanding forest areas are important elements in combating climate change.

Which specific areas of focus do you foresee in your work with Pro Carton in 2022?

Cartons are the best example of a functioning circular economy – and we will communicate this important message. Whereas other packaging materials are still looking for solutions, we have already established ours in the market.

The significance of forestry in combating climate change is closely related to this. Recycling of cartons and combining renewable virgin fibres with recycled materials during the recycling process are both crucial for the expansion of the circular economy.

At Pro Carton, we wish to offer all participants in the value chain a platform to successfully market high-quality products in environment-friendly cartons.

Cartons permit unrestricted communication in every direction. Their ability to impress visually and to provide convincing information is unrivalled by other forms of packaging.

In your opinion, who are the main target groups for Pro Carton’s communication and why?

I view Pro Carton as a contact platform for retailers, brand owners, designers, politicians and opinion leaders, for the waste management industry as well as an information platform for consumers. We will intensify our efforts to connect with both consumers and brand owners. Our website is an excellent tool both for spreading industry news as well as informing the broad public about the benefits of cartons.

Pro Carton is also an active member of various associations that focus on specific target groups. Tony Hitchin and Mike Turner have established close cooperation with ECMA, which I would very much like to develop further, in addition to actively cooperating with other associations.

However, the central issue of our era is and remains: the environment. Interest in the long-term impacts of consumer behaviour and the use of packaging is growing steadily. Environment-friendly and sustainable packaging is becoming increasingly important in purchasing decisions. In particular, we want to provide consumers with the information they need to make the right decisions. Our clearly defined goal is to highlight the benefits of cartons and position them as the most sustainable packaging solution.

Which of the packaging materials cartonboard, glass, metal, wood or plastic do you think is the packaging material of the future and why?

These days, a product is often judged on the basis of its packaging. Packaging has an increasing influence on brand loyalty. Many packaging developments in recent years have focused on improving environmental compatibility, as this is becoming increasingly important in purchasing decisions.

There is a wide range of packaging solutions available today, but the packaging material of the future is clearly cartonboard. Cartons have the great advantage that they are made from renewable raw materials and are non-fossil. Also, they enjoy considerable consumer trust. Consumers can easily and clearly distinguish between cartons and other packaging materials when separating their household waste. And there is no doubt that the sorted waste for recycling is also fed into the recycling system. This is a fundamental trust that is not a given to all packaging materials.

That is why nowadays we already manage to recycle more than 84 per cent of all cartonboard and cartons. The collection rate is significantly higher than for any other packaging material. Our common goal is to raise the bar even higher and further increase the recycling rate – to 90 per cent for fibre based packaging material in 2030. To achieve this goal, we are soliciting the full support of retailers, consumers and the recycling industry.

What opportunities are there to inspire the next generation, be it trainees or students, for the packaging industry?

We position ourselves as a future-safe industry with interesting and creative job profiles.

Especially the difficult times of the current pandemic have proven the importance of cartons as a safe and hygienic packaging solution. Cartons are system-relevant, state-of-the-art and attractive.

As a global industry, our companies offer both local and global employment opportunities. A sound apprenticeship in a packaging company in the cartonboard industry opens up wide-ranging and exciting employment opportunities.

Through intensive PR work, also with local media, we will – together with other associations – emphasise the attractiveness of the carton industry as a modern employer. In addition, we wish to cooperate closely with career advice centres and training institutions.

Our three Awards – the European Carton Excellence Award, the Pro Carton Young Designers Award and the Pro Carton Student Video Award – are ideal starting points for this work. We can introduce young talent to the industry and bring the incredibly diverse creative and technical possibilities of cartons to a wide audience.

Pro Carton members have become true B2B brands for many in the industry. Do you think that a leading association, such as Pro Carton, can also become a brand in its own right?

A brand always includes a promise of quality. We will do everything we can to drive the promise of cartons as a state-of-the-art, functional and particularly sustainable packaging system. This is what Pro Carton stands for, on behalf of all its member companies.

The questions were asked by Uli Rohrbach, PR consultant DPRG and author.