What is the future of food packaging?


The rise in consumption has accelerated the growth of food packaging industry. Consumers are opting for healthier, on-the-go lifestyles, which means they increasingly demand safe, convenient food packaging. At the same time, they are not willing to sacrifice sustainability. As the consumers continue to look for environmentally sound products, brands need to rethink food packaging from the ground up. 

The package of the future

The time is now to look into developing the ‘package of the future’ – one that supports a low-carbon circular economy without compromising food safety.​ Catering to evolving demands, industry is bringing awareness on the importance and future of paper-based aseptic carton package. 

While food packaging plays a critical role in feeding the world, it also impacts the earth’s climate and resources, suggesting a compromise or conflict between the two. However, this should not be the case because sustainable food packaging can play a strong role in balancing both these areas.

Various companies have a great take-off point because today, a carton package is already on average 70% plant-based or renewables which are responsibly-sourced and are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. These carton packages are recyclable and getting increasingly recycled.  All this means, a low carbon impact package when compared to other package types. 

This focus on sustainability goes beyond just the package and covers caps and straws. Many countries have already introduced paper straws and are now evaluating compostable alternatives such as those made from Poly-Lactic Acid. Similarly, brands in this space have seen introduction of bio-based caps that come from plant-based materials, as well as tethered caps that cannot be detached from the pack, therefore addressing the issue of litter.

Currently, the focus should be to deliver the world’s most sustainable food package – that is made fully from renewable or recycled materials, is fully recyclable and carbon neutral, allowing ambient distribution while meeting stringent food safety requirements. This is the future of food packaging

This shift will not happen overnight and will require significant industrial and technical breakthroughs such as:  

  • Expanding the use of renewable polymers 
  • Simplifying packaging material structure and increasing plant and paper-based content 
  • Introducing recycled materials that are food safe
  • Ensuring full recyclability in existing waste streams
  • And innovating in equipment and processes to incorporate structural changes

 

Consumers can be the catalysts

It has been proven time and again that consumers can be the agents of change, encouraging and even demanding that brands make the right decisions. One of the simplest ways that consumers can lead the transformation is by demanding the right information. When consumers buy packaged food, they are conditioned to look at the ingredients, or the expiry date. Imagine, if the same attention is also paid to the sustainability credentials of the package – Is it recyclable? Is it made from renewable materials? Is the material responsibly sourced? What is the carbon footprint of the package? These questions can often be answered simply through labels like the Mobius loop (that represents recyclability) or FSC (that represents responsible sourcing of paper). 

In addition, consumers can adopt better waste disposal habits like segregation of waste at source, to enable efficient recycling. Mindful consumption & disposal choices can help move the industry forward on the sustainability journey.

The future of packaging lies in producing sustainable solutions because if brands fail on food, they fail on planet and vice-versa. To achieve, a low carbon economy, there is a need for circular solutions to reduce human impact on the environment and keep materials away from landfills and in the production-consumption loop.

While this is a monumental task and requires long term focus, it can be achieved with system level thinking, with companies and government working in tandem to provide safe and hygienic food packaging to consumers, while also protecting the environment at the same time. 

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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