How the dairy giant saves 32 tonnes of plastic a year

“With a combination of paper and plastic, Arla saves 32 tonnes of plastic a year”. This was a headline in the spring. The question was whether the combination of materials was a better choice than plastic alone? We expressed some doubts, but after a conversation with Helge Steg, CEO of Arta Plast, the company that manufactures FiberCup, the packaging solution in question, we now know it to be the case.



Text: Bo Wallteg
Photo: Arta Plast


After the piece on, Arta Plast’s CEO, Helge Steg, contacted us and wanted to tell us about the significance of Arla’s claim, and we were happy to hear him out. It regarded Arla 500 ml packs containing of sour cream, crème fraiche and organic Turkish yoghurt. Until this spring, they were made of polystyrene, but are now mostly made of FSC labelled cardboard. This means that Arla was able to reduce its plastic consumption by 32.4 tonnes. At the same time, CO2 generation is reduced by at least 50 percent.


Arta Plast started manufacturing packaging in the early 1980s. Back then it was a small basement company based in Södermalm, Stockholm. The GB ice cream company asked about producing slightly larger two-litre plastic containers for ice cream that the whole family could share in front of the TV, or as Helge Steg says, in front of Hylands Hörna, the TV programme that those older generations will remember. And what we know as ‘Big Pack’ was born. Prior to that, ice cream packaging was made of waxed paper, which was not ideal for larger sizes.


“At that time, polystyrene with added butadiene was used to aid with impact resistance. We quickly decided that we wanted to make the packaging out of polypropylene and a lid out of polythene, and that is what we did. Eventually, the lid was also made of PP and we also used IML, i.e. labels moulded into the plastic. We were ahead of our time in doing so.”


Industry must take responsibility


During the 1990s, it was felt that the production of polystyrene food packaging should not continue. A benzene ring in the PS molecule made the company feel uncertain about food safety. Instead, polypropylene and polythene were used.


“General speaking, it can be said that we in the industry must take responsibility. The fewer materials put on the market, the better. Demand for recycled polystyrene today is almost non-existent, but there is good demand for PP and PE, and demand for PET is likely to grow too.

Before concentrating on food packaging, we focussed on medical devices, and this holds true today, even though food is now a bigger segment. Among other things, we owned a company, Haemedic, in Munka Ljungby, outside Ängelholm, which was sold in the 1990s.”


“It could be said that we shifted from being a medical technology company that also manufactured packaging to being the other way round,” says Helge Steg, adding that the company still develops and manufactures medtech products in large volumes, including in cleanrooms.

“Today we are really big in the area of injection moulded IML packaging. In parallel with that, we have FiberCup.


Today, we employee around 85 people who monitor 42 automatic production lines.” Arta Plast was the first company in Sweden to receive ISO 13485 medical technology certification. Other certifications include FSSC 22000, ISO 14001 and SMETA CSR.


Organic growth has been strong over the years. Since 2017, growth has been steadily increasing, peaking in 2020, when medtech products in particular were to be developed rapidly, before returning to plan in 2021. Turnover is currently just over SEK 200 million.


“We make five-year plans where we plan our growth and so far they have been successful and there is no indication that we will not continue to grow,” states Helge Steg.


FiberCup was exhibited at Scanpack in 2012


As early as 2003, discussions on packaging and recyclability led to the development of 1Seal, the mono PP lid that can be heat sealed directly to the container. Recycling became easy and the sealing wafer could be avoided.

FiberCup is not a new packaging solution, it was shown at Scanpack back in 2012.


“The reason for this development is our view regarding the waste ladder, where minimising material is of the utmost importance. Prevention is clearly what we need to work on. One less kilo of material used is one kilo saved. The result of this thinking was the FiberCup, which has become something of an icon at Arla, but it is our container.”


“When we developed it, the aim was to reduce CO2, and cardboard is often associated with being environmentally-friendly. The goal was a solution that contained at least 50 percent renewable material and that could be recycled in the cardboard stream.”


“What was important then, and still is, was that it should be packaging that could be run directly on customers’ production lines without the need for modifications and fresh investments. It is difficult to get new packaging with this requirement onto the market. FiberCup can achieve this trouble-free.


Put simply, FibreCup has plastic-coated cardboard walls held together by a thin framework and a polypropylene board. The design reduces the amount of plastic compared to an all-plastic cup by 70 percent. As for CO2, the reduction is between 60 and 80 percent. “Unbeatable”, says Helge Steg.


Saved 1,700 tonnes of plastic


A half-litre polystyrene cup weighs about 13.5 grams, a PP cup with a cardboard sleeve for stability weighs about the same and has a plastic content of 7.41 grams. FiberCup, with the same volume, weighs about 10g and contains only 4.2 grams of PP. Despite its low weight, it can handle a top load of 50 kilos. It is of course possible to make the plastic cups thinner, but this is at the cost of stability. FiberCup’s construction, where the strength of the cardboard fibres is combined with the barrier properties of the plastic, provides this.


“This means that by 2023, with the three hundred million FiberCups we have placed on the market, we will have reduced plastic consumption by 1,700 tonnes, which is the equivalent of over 60 truckloads.”


“We believe that this packaging is a good example of what is most important today: prevention, using less material. If we can reduce the amount of plastic by 70 percent in the packaging and it is also linearly recyclable in the liquid packaging stream, this is unbeatable. It will not matter how much we recycle, this is more efficient. We need to focus on prevention.

“It is very circular, circular being something of a buzzword. Everything should be circular, but this is something we in the industry have been focusing on for a long time. Everything that can be run in a return system is already being run. You would hope that our politicians would trust us.


“Instead, legislation is now being introduced that states that all the smart packaging solutions that have been developed in the industry should by definition not be used. Circular recycling is required, regardless of whether there are better alternatives. In the coming years, this will lead to the use of more plastics and will certainly end up with two thirds of everything not being recycled. Something has fallen along the wayside.”


“It may sound like I am saying that we should not recycle plastic, of course we should where possible, but for it to be effective, we, that is, we the consumers, need to get better at collecting our packaging. That is where we lose probably 50 percent of the recyclable material, there are then further losses during separation and in the recycling process itself, which leaves a recycling rate of only maybe 35 percent.


Arta Plast’s packaging is recycled in the liquid packaging stream. In Sweden, this is classified as paper packaging, but this is not the same in other countries, not even in our neighbouring countries. The fibre material has a thin PE coating on the inside and outside. It is really only needed on the outside because it is handled in humid environments. The pressure is on the plastic that is separated during recycling. The plastic carcass is recycled as PP or PE.”


“There are long fibres in the cardboard material and it is unique that all the fibres are encapsulated, i.e. even those at the edges where the plastic backing can be found. This is good from a hygienic point of view and that is what makes it unique. It has 100 percent of the properties of a plastic container, but it only has the equivalent of 30 percent plastic.


Not down


“Anyone who develops or produces packaging realises how good this is, it has many positive effects at the same time that it can go directly into the filling lines of customers.


Smart solutions are rarely alone on the market, and in the case of FiberCup, Helge Steg notes that a global packaging company has copied them, as well as other solutions they have developed. Angry? Not at all.


“I am not down about it, rather I am proud that our small company has developed solutions that one of the world’s big packaging companies has copied. It always plays back as giving peace of mind that it is a good and safe solution and it results in orders from companies that we might otherwise not get access to but who may appreciate a smaller company’s original service and flexibility.


Want to find out more about Arta Plast ( They will be exhibiting at Scanpack, Scandinavia’s largest packaging fair. Welcome to Scanpack, 22–25 October 2024. Buy your ticket »