What comes to mind when you think of sustainable food packaging – Labelling? Food safety? Reduced food waste? Reduced plastic pollution? Renewable and bio-based materials?
Whether your first thought was positive or negative, there are several reasons why food packaging is necessary. Food packaging is essential for many aspects of efficient food distribution and safe consumption, from preventing dangerous contamination and extending the shelf life of food to enabling crucial contact with consumers via on-pack labelling. Despite this, food packaging is also often associated with being bad for the environment: non-recyclable, contributing to pollution, and emitting large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during production.
According to researchers, nearly 66% of all packaging used in circulation in more economically developed countries is for food.
Sustainable food packaging has become an increasingly important topic in recent years as people become more aware of the environmental impact of single-use packaging. As we move into 2023, it is clear that sustainable packaging will continue to be a major focus for the food industry. In this article, we will explore some of the latest trends and innovations in sustainable food packaging and discuss how they are helping to reduce waste and protect the planet.
Recent Trends in Food Packaging
One of the most exciting developments in sustainable food packaging is the use of biodegradable and compostable materials. These materials are designed to break down quickly and safely in the environment, reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or pollutes our oceans. Some examples of biodegradable and compostable materials include plant-based plastics, such as PLA (polylactic acid), and biodegradable paper products. Sustainable alternatives to plastic, such as molded pulp, paperboard, and corrugated cardboard, have gained traction in the last few years.
Another trend in sustainable food packaging is the use of reusable options, which aim to transform packaging from single-use to multi-use assets, are being implemented to counter the rise of single-use packaging. Rather than being disposed of after reaching the consumer, reusable packaging is returned and recirculated over many trips. Making the switch from single-use to reusables can take the edge off environmental burden, reducing dependence on virgin resources by lowering material production, reducing plastic waste and pollution by eliminating waste after use.
Reducing the amount of packaging used is also a key focus for many companies. Brands were anticipated to adopt minimalist packaging designs that use fewer materials and reduce waste. Light weighting, which involves using thinner and lighter packaging materials without compromising product protection, was also predicted to be a significant trend. Companies are also exploring new ways to package food, such as using edible packaging or wrapping products in reusable beeswax wraps.
Technology is also playing a crucial role in sustainable food packaging. For example, smart packaging can help to extend the shelf life of food, reducing the amount of food waste generated. Smart packaging includes features like temperature monitoring, freshness indicators, and interactive labels that provide consumers with information about the product’s sustainability or disposal instructions.
Another trend to watch out for is Active Packaging – which refers to packaging that goes beyond containment and actively interacts with the product to extend shelf life or enhance safety. In 2023, there was a forecasted increase in the use of active packaging technologies, such as oxygen scavengers or moisture absorbers, to reduce food waste and improve sustainability.
In addition to these trends, there is also a growing focus on transparency and sustainability in the food industry. Many companies are making a commitment to using only sustainable packaging materials and are providing information to customers about the environmental impact of their products. This allows consumers to make more informed choices and encourages companies to prioritize sustainability in their operations.
Addressing the Challenges
Of course, there are still many challenges to be addressed when it comes to sustainable food packaging. For example, biodegradable and compostable materials are not always as effective as traditional plastics, and there are concerns about the impact of some of these materials on the environment. However, as we stepped into 2023, it is clear that sustainable food packaging will continue to be a major focus for the industry, and we can expect to see continued innovation and progress in this area.
Companies making ripples in sustainable food packaging innovations & development:
- Borealis introduces a new PP monomaterial pouch that is fully compatible for mechanical recycling of polypropylene.
- NOVA Chemicals and Pregis, a leading manufacturer of flexible and protective packaging, have collaborated to deliver high performing sustainable packaging solutions for food applications that are used in stand-up pouches (SUPs), fitmented pouches, and lay-flat bags.
- hubergroup launches its first heatset and coldset inks for food-compliant paper packaging with the aim of delivering dynamic brand customization in recyclable food packaging solutions.
Sustainability is an increasingly important concern in the food industry, and food packaging is one area where sustainable practices can have a big impact. Only by manufacturing packaging that is fully sustainable can the industry achieve the twin goals of providing a product that performs the task for which it is designed, but at the same time avoids having any form of negative impact on the environment. With the help of new materials, technology, and design innovations, packaging companies are finding new ways to reduce waste, promote reusability, and increase transparency in their operations. As consumers become more conscious of their impact on the environment, it is likely that sustainable food packaging will become even more important in the years to come.