Packaging materials account for approximately 65% of the global solid waste. Out of the total 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste generated over the past seven decades, only 9% has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and remaining strands either on landfills, or in the aquatic ecosystems. The plastic pollution caused by tremendous use of single-use plastic films, which are neither eco-friendly nor recyclable are creating graving concerns for our environment. The annual plastic waste in oceans could exceed more than 53 million metric tons per year by 2030 across the world, according to a report by National Academy of Sciences.
Several industries in the food & beverage, pharmaceuticals, textiles, etc. rely on plastics such as Polyvinyl Chloride(PVC), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), primarily for packaging, that stay for a longer duration without decomposing. Concerns around the generation of micro-and nano-plastics are also becoming prevalent since the human exposure to these toxins through food packaging can lead to an array of health problems Hence, many big players in the modern food and beverage industry are implementing changes to make packaging more eco-friendly for many reasons, including corporate social responsibility, lower carbon footprints, and reduce waste. Moreover, sustainable packaging has been rapidly becoming a big selling point for many brands as consumers are being more aware of the environmental hazards of the plastic pollution.
Many new food packaging technologies are being developed that are formulated with natural compounds by substituting synthetic/chemical antimicrobial and antioxidant agents. Eco-friendly packaging is often made from bioplastics or plant-based extracts such as wheat, wood, or bamboo, which are free of any hazardous or synthetic chemicals. Smart packaging is a game changer in reducing and eliminating food wastage as it offers many advantages of manufacturers as well as consumers. Active packaging, intelligent packaging, and connected packaging are three kinds of smart packaging being employed by companies to reduce food wastage, maintain food safety, and digitize the food supply chain. Active packaging reduces plastic pollution by the incorporation of biodegradable edible packaging layers with good oxygen and grease-barrier properties. Intelligent packaging enables monitoring of the food environment inside and outside the package, which allows the onsite detection of unsafe food products and thus reduce food wastage.
Walmart Launches Circular Connector- A Database of Packaging Innovations
In 2016, Walmart embraced the idea of using 100% recyclable packaging for its private brands, with the goal of reaching the mark by 2025. In 2019, the retail giant shifted its focus to incorporate reusable and industrially compostable packaging in the mix and utilize at least 17% of post-consumer recycled content for its private brands. By 2022, Walmart has managed to reach 55% of its overall packaging goal, however reducing the amount of material for any physical item has also become a big focus for the company. The company’s single-use macaroni and cheese containers are made from fiber-based cartons that are eco-friendly and compostable. The company has also eliminated the small plastic windows in some packaging, which let consumers peek inside the item, instead placing images on paper versions. In April 2022, the company launched Circular Connector initiative to bridge the gap between companies searching for more sustainable packaging ideas and those that offer them. The platform will help accelerate packaging innovations and their quick implementation, which could enable everyone to move faster towards waste reduction. Recently, the U.S. Plastics Pact collaborated with Walmart’s Circular Connector to ensure that business keep plastic packaging in the economy and out of the environment by eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging and taking other actions.
Coca-Cola Makes Sustainable Packaging a Priority
Coca-Cola produces over 120 billion single use plastic bottles every year. In 2022, the Coca-Cola aimed to make 100% of its packaging recyclable globally by 2025 and to use at least 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030. The Coca-Cola company debuted its world’s first recyclable PET plastic bottle prototype made up to 30% plant-based material using technologies that are ready for commercial scale. In addition, Coca-Cola is working towards making all of its packaging more sustainable with the use of recycled and renewable content and maximizing the application of virgin and fossil materials. The beverage giant has pledged to collect back of the equivalent bottles it sells by 2030 to reduce the waste. Coca-Cola is also planning to invest in new recycling technologies like enhanced recycling and packaging improvements such as light-weighting, alternative business models such as refillable and dispensed fountain systems, etc. to reduce the plastic wastage. In Europe and Japan, Coca-Cola aims to eliminate the use of oil-based virgin PET by 2030 and adopt high-quality and food-grade PET to contribute towards circular economy.
Zume & Solenis Collaborates to Accelerate Global Adoption of PFAS-free Adoption
The sustainability solutions company, Zume and global specialty chemical manufacturer, Solenis have collaborated to introduce a comprehensive line of 100% PFAS-free molded fiber packaging, including hot cup lids, bowls, egg cartons, protein trays, etc. The aim of the joint partnership is to help global food brands replace plastic and Styrofoam packaging with a sustainable and economically viable substitutes for food service applications. The patented molded fiber manufacturing equipment system and technology of Zume can help Solenis to advance its efforts towards eliminating single-use plastic and enables brands to keep commitments to stop using PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) that do not degrade naturally.
Latest Innovations in Sustainable Food Packaging
Innovations in cling film packaging are shaping the future of food packaging. Here are some of the new innovations in sustainable food packaging are as follows.
Micro-/Nanofabrication with Silk Fibroin
Trillions of pieces of discarded non-biodegradable plastic food packaging are floating in the ocean. Substituting plastic packaging with a natural, non-toxic, and edible liquid can resolve the plastic wastage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing, processing, and packaging food. Silk fibroin is colorless and flavorless that makes it a perfect edible coating material for perishable food preservation, which could eliminate the use of millions of tonnes of plastic for packaging needs. Extending the shelf life of the world’s food supply with the use of silk fibroin at room temperature for even a week can be a boon for the agricultural and food manufacturing industries, which could reduce the size of the global waste stream since 30% of food goes unconsumed at the retail and consumer level. In 2020, spoiled and contaminated food cause more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States. Utilizing silk fibroin can be a game changer for agriculture in general as it can tackle the “shelf-life issue”, which has been a long-time struggle.
Crab Shells and Tree Fibre Films
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a flexible, strong, transparent, and compostable film made from crab shells and tree fibres. The material has the potential to replace plastics such as PET, one of the most commonly used petroleum-based materials in the transparent packaging. The film is made by spraying layers of chitin (found in shellfish, insects, and fungi) and cellulose from trees, which is the planet’s most common natural biopolymer. The crab shell and tree fibre film demonstrated up to a 67% reduction in oxygen permeated when compared to the PET films used for food packaging.
As the world population is increasing, the demand for food packaging will proliferate significantly. Thus, finding renewable and compostable packaging solutions is essential to reduce overall plastic wastage. FMCG manufacturers and retailers are experimenting with complete packaging redesigns to curb plastic-waste generation, owing to growing consumer awareness and increasing regulatory requirements. Emergence of more sustainable packaging alternatives are expected to facilitate the reduction of plastic waste on our planet in the coming years.