A Life, Less Throwaway: Delivering Greener Packaging For Ornamentals

John Zwaan (right), marketing manager Floral Trade Group at the Greenovation Awards ceremony where it ended third with its Refleur marketing concept.

Greenport West-Holland, in collaboration with the Dutch cluster for innovative greenhouse horticulture SIGN, hosted a seminar on 18 October 2022 at the horticultural supplier Houweling Group headquarters in Lansingerland to learn more about biobased and circular packaging.

Greenport West-Holland is a triple-helix knowledge-sharing platform, a trilateral network of organisational links between the university, the government and industry. This seminar attracted 85 attendees from the horticultural industry, including growers, floral wholesalers, auction reps, and horticultural suppliers. This third business event was among Greenport West-Holland’s best-visited ones.

The first speaker and Lansingerland’s Alderman, Leon Hoek, could easily understand why. “Today’s topic shows us how the horticulture industry should go forward. There’s a new generation out there who demand employers enshrine values and ethics in their business model, not just profit. As such, I am delighted to see that today’s event also taps into the potential of universities and students because it is the youth that is cementing our society.”

ecoExpert by Modiform combines cardboard clam packaging and in-box trays, ensuring sustainable and optimally protected shipping of potted plants.

Houweling Group

Moderator Else Boutkan subsequently announced Fred van Beek, commercial director at Houweling Group as the next speaker. He referenced the company’s happening, lounge-like corporate canteen – which on this occasion was transformed into a mini-conference venue – explaining that the room is much about DTD (doing things differently). “This is where people have lunch, can unwind, recharge, bond together, and have their Friday afternoon beer. We strive to design a workplace where people feel at home just like in a family setting.”

Founder Cor Houweling senior established the company in 1925 in Ouderkerk aan den IJssel after developing a chalk-based whitewash to protect his cold-frame-grown vegetables from too intense sunlight.
Today, the company continues to be family-run, selling more than 180,000 products to 300 customers in 30 countries. The company’s flagship product La Blanche is used by greenhouses worldwide.

In recent years, the company has proliferated, generating a €90 million per year turnover, up from €30 million one decade ago. Houweling uses vertical business integration to incorporate multiple stages of its production process. The business has come a long way, from an owned chalk mine in Romania to manufacturing biostimulants in Bleiswijk to venturing into recycling packaging material.

Rene Bunnik is the sales manager within the EcoVadis-certified company. He says EcoVadis is one of the world’s most comprehensive sustainability rating tools, assessing the company on social, ethical, and environmental impacts. Among the 65,000 EcoVadis-rated companies around the globe, Houweling ranks among the 25 per cent most sustainable ones.

The EcoVadis Silver Medal recognises the company’s Recoservice, which aims to protect the environment by reducing waste and preserving raw materials. Recoservice collects used packaging, work clothing and PPE to inspect, clean and re-use/process it. The range of packaging granted a second life includes Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs), jerrycans, barrels and buckets.

Bunnik explained that post-consumer resin (PCR) is an environmentally friendly packaging option that supports the company’s recycling programme. This year the company’s production of PCR-made items stood at more than 1.5 million.

Multiple questions, no single answer

Eelke Westra, programme manager at WUR University, dived into the complexity of sustainable packaging using perforated produce bags as an example.

Westra pronounced: “How small must perforated holes be to promote healthy air circulation? What packaging choice is best: recycled, biobased or omitting plastics altogether? These are just a few questions surrounding the sustainable packaging debate.”

He thinks a debate should focus on using a comprehensive approach to replace, reuse, rethink, reduce and redesign packaging. “What about the packed product itself? How sustainable is that? Frequently you will need extra, not-thought-of dimensions in your packaging models. Introducing cardboard packaging, for example, may seem a wonderful way to reduce carbon footprints. Until you discover that it reduces a product’s visibility, one of the prerequisites of consumers.”

Invited to give his view on the future of packaging, he said there is no single best solution but that the world will continue to shift away from virgin plastic, albeit not entirely. In choosing suitable packaging, he thinks the lead question should be, do we need to pack, and if so, what sustainable solutions are available?

Refleur incorporates FSI-certified grown tulips, lilies, or peonies packed in a paper sleeve made from natural plant fibres, fibres made from discarded flowers during processing. These flowers are placed in a bucket made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

Polystyrene is a no-go

Matthijs Plas, who oversees Modiform’s sustainable strategy, explains that his company supplies pots, containers and packaging for breeders, growers, and online plant delivery services, with EcoExpert for e-tailers being its latest product. The latter combines cardboard clam packaging and in-box trays, ensuring sustainable and optimally protected shipping of potted plants.

Clampack is a packaging that ‘clamps’ around the pot with an opening at the top through which the plant sticks out. Clampack was among this year’s Greenovation Awards nominees at Trade Fair Aalsmeer.
In citing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – “waste and pollution are not accidents, but the consequences of decisions made at the design stage, where around 80 per cent of environmental impacts are determined”- Plas urges the industry to jump on the sustainable packaging bandwagon without further delay because consumers have more power than we think and ready to call for action when they feel corporate decisions are unsustainable.

Greener packaging, he says, is also a way to anticipate existing or upcoming legislation. “In the UK, environmental taxes are already very high; in Germany, there is compulsory registration.”
Plas continued to summarise where different EU members stand regarding recycling rates. In Belgium, Germany and Norway, PET is accepted in most recycling programmes. In the Netherlands and the UK, polystyrene is a no-go as it needs to be separated in kerbside collection recycling programmes and is not separated and recycled where it is taken. In Denmark, Italy, Sweden or Poland, there is so much to improve in recycling that paper and cardboard are the best options,” explained Plas, adding that the hundreds of differently coloured pots are not helping the industry on its path to sustainability. “In the future, we must bid farewell to all these colours and hues, sticking to five main colours in pot manufacturing.”

Industry recognition in a biobased society

Tomato grower Ted Duijvesteijn from Pijnacker-based Duijvesteijn Tomaten mentioned that in the search for more sustainable packaging, it is crucial to team up with the many stakeholders within the value chain. “The search comes with a good dose of pressure, with our customers questioning whether new packaging will perform as well as existing ones and not disrupt the supply chain. Frequently, there is a mismatch. Customers find sustainable packaging either too expensive or too disrupting in terms of recycling coordination.”

Duijvestein believes that too often, the industry focuses on problem-solving only, while getting industry recognition in a biobased economy is no less important.


John Zwaan, marketing manager at the Netherlands’ third-largest floral wholesaler Floral Trade Group proudly presented Refleur. This marketing concept incorporates FSI-certified grown tulips, lilies, or peonies packed in a paper sleeve made from natural plant fibres made from discarded flowers during processing. These flowers are placed in a bucket made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. A percentage of the bouquet sale proceeds go to a charity in Cote d’Ivoire to help locals build schools from bricks made from recycled plastic.

Refleur was one of the nine nominees for Royal FloraHolland’s coveted Greenovation Awards, where it ended third. Zwaan describes Refleur’s aim as a way to liaise with florists and traditional wholesalers, who, contrary to retail customers, are not always convinced about the necessity of sustainable packaging.

Refleur was already successful in its initial stage, with several customers doing the ‘cherry-picking.’ Zwaan elaborates, “Some show interest in the bouquet, while others are keen to work with the purposed-design buckets. Others would like to sell Refleur using their logo and corporate identity.”

This article was first published in the March 2023 FloraCulture International.

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