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Sustainable food packaging innovations

Sustainable food packaging innovations


Sustainable food packaging refers to the use of packaging materials that have the minimum effect on the environment and are also compatible with food safety. The constituents of such packaging materials are bio-degradable and can be recycled. They pose a minimum effect on the environment as they cause no pollution. They can be an effective method for managing the waste caused by the use of plastic and other packaging materials in the food packaging industry. For example, edible packaging, usually made of starch or any other edible material, can provide safety and a barrier against harsh environmental conditions such as temperature, oxygen, or any other kind of physical damage. In this way, they can be a source of nutrients as well. The use of sustainable packaging materials can be beneficial in that it reduces packaging waste and involves the use of biodegradable materials. It is important to use modified and sustainable food packaging materials because the pollution and environmental hazards caused by food packaging waste cannot be denied or overlooked. 

There is a lot of food being processed and packaged every day to meet the needs of the world’s population. The traditional food packaging methods involve the use of plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) paper and cardboard. Although a large portion of the packaging waste is recycled, it is still a matter of concern for the ecosystem. Plastic waste is very difficult to dispose of as it is not biodegradable and can’t be decomposed by microorganisms. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost half of the municipal solid waste is contributed by food packaging material.

In developed countries, waste reduction is one of the top priorities of governments. Ne'ma, the UAE’s National Food Loss and Waste Initiative, was established in March 2022. The purpose of this initiative was to coordinate private, governmental, and non-governmental organizations and society to minimize food loss and waste across the food supply chain. Land and water pollution are the major concerns of today’s world. The waste produced either by food packaging or any other source is disturbing nature and the ecosystem. Tons of plastic and other waste are disposed of in rivers, oceans, and landfills. They accumulate in the water systems and disturb the natural habitat of the water. When the food obtained from these polluted water resources is consumed by humans, it causes different health hazards and problems. The present age is well aware of the limited resources of our planet and the challenges they are facing due to inappropriate use and management of the methods used for processing and packaging food and other products Approximately 36% of the plastic produced is used as food and beverage packaging material, which ends up in the ocean and landfills. If we keep on using traditional food packaging materials such as plastic, our planet will be unlivable one day.

This blog will address the following topics related to food packaging, its sustainability, and innovations being made in the modern food packaging field:


  • Introduction of sustainable food packaging and its importance 
  • Growing concerns about waste reduction and its environmental impact 
  • Problems with traditional packaging 
  • Drawbacks and their impact on the environment (waste and pollution)
  • Biodegradable material (introduction and benefits)
  • Challenges and potential improvements in biodegradable packaging 
  • Edible packaging (introduction and its potential) 
  • Innovative edible packaging solutions 
  • Consumer reactions and safety considerations about edible packaging 
  • Reusable container system (introduction and examples)
  • Advantages and challenges of reusable containers
  • Sustainable packaging in action 
  • Case studies of businesses implementing sustainable food packaging 
  • Data on reduced waste and environmental impact 
  • Technological advancements in sustainable food packaging (improvements in durability and sustainability)
  • Use of nanotechnology and other innovations 
  • Market trends and future prospects of sustainable food packaging 
  • The future of sustainable food packaging and its impact on the industry 
  • Potential regulatory changes affecting packaging 
  • Tips for businesses seeking to adopt sustainable food packaging 
  • Benefits of aligning with consumer values
  • Conclusion (importance of sustainable food packaging and benefits of adopting it)
  • References

Problems with traditional packaging 

 traditional packaging

The main purpose of packaging the food is to protect it from harsh environmental conditions such as microorganisms, heat, oxygen, and physical damage that can affect the shape, integrity, and quality of the food products. Traditional food packaging involves the use of plastic, metals, glass, paper wood, etc. They are usually prepared from non-renewable energy resources, which are going to end soon. For example, wooden boxes used for the packaging and transport of most fruits, such as oranges, are prepared from wood, which is obtained from cutting trees. It results in uncontrolled usage of natural resources and causes an increase in environmental pollution. 

The drawbacks associated with traditional food packaging involve the chemical contamination of food products, limited barrier properties, and depletion of energy resources. Traditional

Food packaging leads to environmental pollution and has the following drawbacks:


1- Environmental impact:


Most of the traditional food packaging materials, such as plastic and metal, lead to water and land pollution. They are usually non-biodegradable, don’t get decomposed easily, and remain in the environment for a long time, which results in environmental depletion.


2- Waste generation:


Plastic from food packaging materials is disposed of directly into the oceans and other water bodies. It accumulates and causes many problems, such as water pollution, which is harmful to water life. Municipal waste disposed of in landfills causes land pollution as plastic is non-biodegradable. When plastic and metals come into contact with water as waste, they result in the formation of harmful and toxic substances that are not eco-friendly. For example, McDonald’s produces 3 tons of packaging waste per minute and almost 2 million tons of packaging waste per year.


3- Chemical contamination:


Most of the packaging materials contain chemicals that can interact with the food constituents to contaminate them and may pose health-hazardous problems. Certain chemicals present in plastic, such as bisphenols, are endocrine disruptors; they can disrupt the release and production of estrogen and other hormones.


4-Resources and energy consumption:


The production of traditional packaging materials such as plastic and metals requires a lot of energy and natural resources. For example, wooden boxes used for fruit and vegetable packaging and transport are prepared from wood, which mainly comes from cutting trees and forests. It results in deforestation, which is the leading cause of global warming.


Biodegradable Materials:

 Biodegradable Materials

Biodegradable packaging materials are those that can be easily disintegrated and decomposed by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. They have weaker molecular structures and can be easily broken down by microorganisms. Examples of biodegradable food packaging materials include compostable materials such as bagasse (sugarcane fiber) molded pulp, edible packaging cellulose, etc. These packaging materials utilize starch-based plastic and other biodegradable materials, which are eco-friendly; they disintegrate quickly and cause no pollution in comparison to traditional packaging materials. They do not include any harmful or toxic substances that may get mixed with the food and can deteriorate the quality of the food, and they also ensure the safety of the food. Energy utilization in the preparation of these materials is minimal, and they are usually prepared from renewable energy resources.

The benefits of using biodegradable packaging materials include reduced impact on the environment, less consumption of energy and natural resources, and fewer carbon emissions during their manufacturing and disposal. They easily decompose, which results in lowering the waste. They are mostly compatible with food products and provide reliable safety to food from microorganisms and other environmental aspects such as heat, oxygen, etc.

A company named Notpla, based in London, was founded by Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez Improvised the use of Notpla, a non-chemically modified, polysaccharide-based material. It is a natural and organic substance that can easily be broken down, and it is biodegradable. Notpla is a biodegradable packaging material developed by the same company (Notpla) and made from seaweed and plants. It is used for the packaging of different products, such as sauce sachets, Ooho biodegradable and edible single-use liquid packaging, etc. 

Another company named B’zeos was founded by Guy Maurice, based in Oslo. Seaweed was harvested in Norway and later used for the preparation of the packaging material. In 20219, a partnership with Nestle was signed, and in 2021, Nestle used this packaging material on the market. Edible plastic-free drinking straws and food films were developed by this company. 



Sustainability MindMap Diagram



Challenges and potential improvements:

challenges and opportunities

The first and main challenge in biodegradable packaging is the shelf life of the biodegradable material. They are generally obtained from perishable resources such as corn starch, cellulose, etc. Their limited shelf life can lead to the deterioration of food products. Each biodegradable material has different biodegradation rates depending on its source of production. Scalability issues in biodegradable packaging involve the high cost of their production in comparison to traditional packaging materials. 

Potential improvements in biodegradable packaging involve the production of more novel, durable, and biodegradable packaging materials. There is a need to improve the production processes of such materials to minimize energy and resource usage. Awareness among consumers about the disposal of these packaging materials is an important development yet to be made.

Edible packaging:

 Edible packaging

Edible packaging is the packaging material that can be consumed with the original food products. They are a source of calories and nutrients for consumers. The choice of a particular packaging material depends on the compatibility of that material with the food product to be packaged. Examples of edible food packaging materials include edible straws, edible coffee cups, edible spoons, and rice-made wrappers used in the packaging of different types of candies. Edible coatings on fruits are also an example of edible food packaging materials. These edible coatings are usually polysaccharide-based, made from chitosan starch and cellulose. Edible packaging materials can be a potential source to replace traditional food packaging and reduce the waste and pollution caused by traditional packaging materials. They are easy to manufacture and handle. They get eaten with the food, so they do not cause any potential damage to the environment. They can easily replace traditional food packaging materials to manage and reduce municipal waste.


  Innovative edible food packaging


Innovative edible food packaging involves the introduction of edible films and coatings. They are thin coatings created from proteins, starch, and lipids. They are used to coat food products to protect them from environmental conditions and any kind of damage. Sea-weed-based packaging is also used to create edible and biodegradable food packaging materials, such as alginates, which are derived from seaweeds and used as a food packaging material. Edible cutlery made from rice or wheat is being introduced as a biodegradable and eco-friendly food material. Fruit peels and skins from fruits such as mangos and bananas can also be used as food packaging materials.


Consumers reactions and safety considerations 


Consumers generally appreciate the use of edible food packaging materials because they are eco-friendly. They cause no damage to the environment and do not contribute to any solid waste in landfills and water bodies. They are cost-friendly as they do not add much price to the food product during their application. They are prepared with renewable energy resources. Although they are eco-friendly and cost-friendly, there can be food security risks associated with them. There is a need to conduct testing on the compatibility of these packaging materials with specific food products. The components of packaging materials can interact with the food ingredients and cause contamination of the food product.


Reusable container system


Reusable container systems include containers and food packaging materials that can be reused multiple times to reduce production costs and waste generation. An example of a reusable container system is plastic water bottles. Instead of being single-use, they are not discarded but used again and again by washing and sterilizing them to ensure the product's safety. Coffee cups prepared from different materials, such as stainless steel, can be used again and again to reduce the use of plastic cups. Bulk food storage containers are designed to be used again and again.

A company named Terracycles, based in New Jersey, launched Loop- a reusable packaging program, to promote the concept of reusable packaging. It works on collecting the used packaging materials, converting them into hygienic and reusable forms, and delivering them to the food manufacturers. The loop partners are PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and many other small brands. Reusable containers for about 300 products are designed by this project to overcome the use of traditional packaging systems. 


Advantages and challenges of reusable containers:


Reusable containers are preferable to traditional food packaging in different aspects. They are environmentally friendly and cause less pollution in comparison to single-use packaging materials. They add to the affordability of the food product as they can be used again and again. The energy and resource consumption in their preparation are minimal. They have less impact on the environment and do not contribute to solid municipal waste. They are also beneficial to promoting the brand image as they are eco-friendly and promote sustainability. 

Challenges in the application of reusable containers as packaging materials include the high initial cost of these containers. Transport and recollection of these containers can also be a problem. These containers can also pose safety threats when they are reused because they are exposed to different environmental conditions. Consumers are not yet used to adopting them as an innovative packaging material because of safety concerns and a lack of awareness.

Sustainability MindMap Diagram

Sustainable packaging in action:

Tetra Pak is one of the companies that aims to replace traditional packaging materials with sustainable ones. Their main aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging food and beverage products. Tetra Pak developed cartons made from plant-based materials such as sugarcane and fibers from wood. The Tetra Pak® recycling aspect was developed by this company to recycle the material and separate the layers of their packaging material to form new products such as building materials, etc. 

Vegware is a food packaging service based in the United Kingdom that uses plant-based compostable food packaging. This company introduced hot cups composed of two layers that are lined with PLA, a plant-based material that can be reused multiple times. The recyclable hot cups are in 8, 12, and 16-ounce sizes.

As a modern industrial society, we are producing over 430 million tons of plastic per year. Two-thirds of these go to waste and cause pollution in water channels and landfills. Out of the 430 million tons of plastic produced, 36% of it is used in packaging food and other products. The recycling of reusable packaging materials, for example, 68% of paper and paperboard are recycled annually to be reused and make new packaging material. Recycling aluminum as part of a reusable container system saves 95% of the energy required to make the new aluminum packaging containers. The use of sustainable packaging materials has the aim of reducing the use of plastic by one-third by 2025.

In modern society, consumers are well aware of the harmful effects of traditional food packaging. They prefer to use eco-friendly products and help maintain a healthy and green environment. Customer demand for sustainable food packaging can force food business owners to adopt eco-friendly and sustainable food packaging solutions.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram 

Technological advancements:

Technological advancements in food packaging have not only increased the safety of food products but also the sustainability of food packaging materials to control the waste and pollution created by old packaging techniques. Modern and latest food packaging techniques involve modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), active and intelligent packaging, and active edible packaging. These advanced food packaging techniques aim to improve the shelf life and safety of food products and to make sustainable food packaging materials to reduce their environmental impact.

 In modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), the composition of gases present within the package is replaced with carbon dioxide and nitrogen to avoid spoilage and maintain the freshness of food products. Active edible packaging involves the use of edible films and edible coatings made from seaweeds or proteins from natural resources. These active films and coatings provide barriers to the food products against microbes, oxygen, and other possible hazards.




Nanotechnology is one of the latest food packaging techniques for the development of sustainable food packaging materials. It implies the use of nanocomposites, which contain nanoparticles. They offer good barrier properties against moisture and oxygen to retain the quality and freshness of food products. Nano-based sensors are also being introduced to detect the spoilage and contamination of food products. Nanoencapsulation is a technology in which additives such as antioxidants or antimicrobial agents are released in a controlled manner to control food spoilage. 

Benefits of technological advancements:

Advanced technologies have improved the durability of packaging materials by introducing smart packaging techniques that have more barrier properties in comparison to traditional packaging techniques, which are more liable to damage by microbes and physical conditions. Techniques such as modified atmosphere packaging ensure food safety by introducing a unique composition of inert gases in food packages to control food spoilage. Active coatings and edible films are biodegradable packaging materials that can preserve the integrity of food products.

The sustainability of the food packaging material has been improved by the use of advanced technologies. Biodegradable and recyclable materials such as edible films, coatings, and plant-based packaging materials are being prepared with the use of these advanced technologies. Advanced technologies, which include digital printing of food packages, have minimized waste in the packaging industry. 


Sustainability MindMap Diagram


Tips for businesses:

In the present age, consumers are more attracted to products that are sustainable and eco-friendly. There is a great opportunity for businesses that are looking forward to adopting sustainable food packaging materials. Here are some things to keep in mind while choosing a sustainable food packaging material for a food product:

1- Select biodegradable, eco-friendly packaging material for your product.

2- Check the compatibility of your food product with the selected packaging material 

3- Select the material that is cost-friendly and requires less energy in their production 

4- It should be obtained from renewable energy resources, such as plant-based packaging materials.

5- Make your consumers well aware of the handling and disposal of the packaging material after use. 

6- The packaging material should be designed in a way to reduce waste.

7- Labeling the packaging material should be done in a way to minimize its impact on the environment. 


Actionable strategies and steps for the transition to eco-friendly packaging:



There are some strategies and steps to adopt while making a transition from traditional to sustainable packaging:

1- Conduct an audit on your current packaging material and look for areas for improvement.

2- Set your goals and objectives for the transition you are going to make. 

3- Search for eco-friendly and biodegradable material 

4- Train your working team and educate them about the specifications of packaging material.

5- Make the packaging design meet regulatory and sustainability standards.

6- Educate consumers about the importance of sustainable packaging 

7- Run experiments with your selected food packaging material.

8- Monitor the impact of packaging material on food safety, quality, and the environment. 


Benefits of aligning with consumers:


Another important strategy while transitioning toward sustainable packaging is to align with the customer's needs and demands. Customers prefer to buy products that meet their expectations. The following are the benefits we can get by aligning our product according to customer needs and expectations:

1- You can make customers loyal to your brand 

2- Increased sales and profits 

3- Consumer satisfaction and trust

4- Better brand image 

5- Better position in the market 

Market trends and prospects:

The driving force behind the worldwide application of sustainable food packaging materials is their suitability for the environment. The current market trends include the use of biodegradable materials, recyclable packaging materials, edible packaging materials such as edible films and edible coatings, etc. Most food companies are adopting sustainable packaging materials for their food products. Consumers are well aware of the waste added by conventional food packaging materials, so they demand eco-friendly and sustainable food products.

The future of sustainable packaging:

There is a growing demand for sustainable packaging, as reported by McKinsey and Co. 75% of customers supported the idea that sustainable packaging should be considered before making any purchase. Research conducted by Zebra Technologies reveals that 62% of businesses that adopted the idea of smart packaging experienced a positive return on their investments. A survey conducted by Deloitte showed that 80% of executives believe that smart packaging is critical for their businesses to be successful in the coming five years. Moreover, the advancements in technology will help us make more reliable food packaging materials that are more resistant to moisture, oxygen, and other hazards. Nanotechnology and active smart packaging will drive sustainable packaging innovations to an acceptable and sustainable level.

Certain regulatory standards affect the selection of sustainable food packaging materials. These standards set different specifications for different food products. Strict regulations can affect the selection of specific packaging materials. For example, different standards are being set about the level of inert gases in modified atmosphere packaging. The aim is to provide the consumer with safe and healthy food. These regulations can cause a hindrance in choosing a packaging material.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram



Key takeaways:

1- Sustainable packaging materials can be an effective substitute for conventional food packaging.

2- Consumers demand eco-friendly and sustainable food packaging materials. 

3- They can be used to reduce the waste produced by plastic and other packaging materials. 

4- It is necessary to check the compatibility of the food product with the packaging material.

In conclusion, sustainable packaging is an effective solution to reduce the waste of packaging material. They are biodegradable materials that can easily be decomposed by microorganisms. They are usually obtained from renewable energy resources and are cost-effective. But care should be taken in choosing them because of their specific chemical and physical characteristics; they can interact with the food. As responsible citizens, we must adopt all the practices and adopt green change to save our planet. Waste generated from conventional packaging materials can lead to contamination of water bodies and the integrity of our ecosystem. Sustainable packaging options should be adopted, and society should also contribute to saving our ecosystem. 



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