The food and beverage industry faces a stiff challenge as it pertains to sustainability, and the packaging is at the heart of it. For years, companies have relied on plastics (which carry a remarkably low recycling rate) to adequately protect their products, and consumer behavior to ensure the packaging is disposed of responsibly.
As more and more consumers seek out sustainable products, food and beverage brands of all sizes have upped their existing environmental values by establishing lofty packaging goals. Start-ups build sustainability directly into their mission. Regional grocery store chains, such as Wegmans, make commitments to their shoppers to provide a greener future. Then there are potentially world-changing pledges made by giants like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to move to 100% recyclable packaging by 2025.
The movement is on, and if you’re not incorporating sustainable food packaging (packaging that minimizes resource requirements, uses responsibly sourced materials, and maximizes opportunities for recovery, recycling, or reuse), you’re falling behind.
Sustainable Alternative Materials
There are many ways brands are implementing sustainability measures into their food packaging. They’ve reduced their use of plastics and materials as a whole by incorporating the principles of right-sized packaging.
They’ve also taken advantage of emerging board options that promote sustainability. Emerald Brand, a national provider of sustainable and healthy products, has introduced a Tree-Free substrate made from sugarcane bagasse. This highly renewable resource was once a waste product and now serves as the fiber base for boards that can be used in folding cartons, marketing collateral, and more. The material is 100% compostable and biodegradable, and the high moisture stock option is ideal for paper cups, leak-free cartons, and refrigerated packaging. Other ‘alternative’ board options like recycled post-consumer paperboard are FDA-compliant for food contact as well.
On a larger scale, researchers at the USDA have “developed an edible, biodegradable packaging film made of casein — a milk protein — that can be wrapped around food to prevent spoilage,” explains an article published by progressive news site ThinkProgress. As a bonus, the material is more effective than plastic at blocking out oxygen, which keeps foods fresher, longer by limiting bacteria growth and preventing oxidation.
These breakthroughs show that eco-friendly food packaging is not only viable, but constantly improving.
Innovations in Bottled Water
Of the many subsections of the food and beverage industry, bottled water (the largest beverage category by volume in the United States.) tends to draw scrutiny for its lack of sustainability. It’s been well publicized that the amount of water that goes into developing a single plastic bottle actually exceeds the amount of water contained in the bottle. This ironic truth highlights the negative environmental impact of bottled water producers, but it’s only a part of the greater issue. Although some consumers reuse the bottles, many more discard them: It’s estimated the amount of plastic that ends up in nature is equivalent to 100 bottles per American.
Brands are countering this problem in different ways. Aquafina cut its plastic use on 20-ounce bottles by 40%. Poland Spring pledges to make all bottles under 1 gallon from 100% recycled plastic by 2022.
Then there are companies moving away from plastics entirely in hopes of improving their sustainability. Coca-Cola, for example, announced that Dasani would be offered in aluminum cans and bottles, a material that’s more easily recycled.
An even more innovative approach comes from brands JUST Water and Boxed Water. The former uses cartons made from FSC-certified paperboard and plant-based caps. The latter showcases sustainability right on its cartons with the message “Boxed Water Is Better.”
Both embody the spirit of sustainable packaging. They use eco-friendly materials and promote recyclability without sacrificing the quality of their products.
Thinking Creatively About Sustainable Packaging
Implementing sustainable food packaging is about more than utilizing eco-friendly materials and encouraging consumers to properly dispose of them. It’s also a key part of establishing a brand you and your customers can be proud of by sending consistent messaging.
In that sense, sustainability should be a component of your marketing strategy. Consider KitKat. The Nestlé chocolate bar is massively popular in Japan. To highlight the brand’s commitment to sustainability and appeal to the Japanese audience, Nestlé now packages KitKats in paper, with instructions on how to fold the packaging into an origami crane.
In a similar campaign—creatively incorporating a green message directly into packaging—General Mills famously removed the iconic BuzzBee mascot from its Honey Nut Cheerios cereal boxes in 2017 to bring awareness to declining bee populations. The packaging also invited consumers to #BringBackTheBees and provided information on how to access free wildflower seeds to help the cause. (General Mills also recently announced its commitment to relying entirely on 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2030.)
Now, you may not have the resources of Nestlé or General Mills to spread sustainability messages on such a wide scale, but you can make an impact by partnering with a packaging provider that can help you set and achieve sustainable packaging goals.
Food and beverage brands have turned to Oliver Inc. for this purpose. Oliver fulfills its environmental responsibilities by investing in alternative energy sources, leveraging energy-efficient equipment, and implementing a lean operations approach that reduces its overall waste to near zero. Specifically to food packaging, the experts at Oliver design right-sized packaging and limit (or replace) the use of plastics, while ensuring the products retain shelf life. The company also offers Tree-Free substrates, post-consumer recycled paperboard, and paperboard sourced from responsibly managed forests.
When you work with Oliver, you gain a partner that will not only deliver effective, eco-friendly packaging, but also help establish you as a sustainable brand.