Traditionally, food and other consumer goods have been packaged using materials from plastics and synthetic polymers which can be extremely harmful to the environment. Several countries are banning the use of single-use plastics in packaging, and for good reason. The microplastics generated by this form of packaging are extremely damaging to the environment and are consumed by fish, which in turn end up in our food chain. This has resulted in a boom in the market for new and innovative materials for packaging.
Food packaging is a sensitive niche in the packaging materials industry because of several reasons. Food can often either be greasy or wet, which means that the packaging needs to be secure enough to prevent leakages. Secondly, because the packaged material is for human consumption, it is imperative to ensure that there are no harmful chemicals or toxins in the packaging that could potentially harm the consumer.
Several innovative alternatives have been developed over the past couple of years that are not damaging to the environment, while at the same time being safe for packaging fast-moving consumer goods. We have outlined our favorite options below.
Eco-Friendly Packaging Materials
1. Corn Starch
Corn Starch packaging is a new form of packaging material that has been developed using polylactic acid or PLA.
The biggest advantage of this is that material made from PLA is biodegradable. Within a few months, packaging made from corn starch breaks down into carbon and water and seamlessly integrates with our environment. This packaging option is extremely kind to the environment and is also cheap to produce. It can be a great option for small businesses that are not operating on a large amount of capital.
Corn starch packaging is great for the packaging of food materials because it is food safe and resistant to the oils and fats that are found in food items. It is all-natural, free from toxins, and entirely biodegradable.
2. Glass Jars & Bottles
Glass has been used for decades in the packaging of food and water. It is extremely resource-efficient and the raw materials from which it is made (sand and cullets) are abundant in the environment.
What makes glass an extremely environmentally friendly packaging option is that it can also be recycled over and over again in a closed loop. Glass bottles have a recycling rate of up to 80% and do not require a lot of energy in the recycling process.
When it comes to food packaging, glass is a preferred material because it does not stain and retains the vitamins and minerals of the food items it contains. It is an incredibly aesthetically pleasing form of packaging, too! Mason jars are a really popular form of food packaging, and the best part is that they can be used over and over again to store other things.
3. Aluminum Packaging
According to reports, aluminum packaging remains the number one most sustainable option for beverages and other drinks. There are several advantages to using aluminum for your food or beverage-based small business.
Aluminum is a lightweight material which means that you can significantly reduce your bulk shipping costs. They also have an extremely high recycling rate as compared to their competitors. More aluminum is recycled than virtually any other material, and it can also be recycled over and over again. This is different from the recycling of other materials like glass and plastic which are generally "down-cycled" to other, cheaper materials.
Meanwhile. cans made of aluminum are directly recycled back into their original forms. Statistically, these cans have 3X the recycled content as compared to glass or plastic and stand at 73% on average. Producing recycled cans also only takes around 8% of the energy requirements of manufacturing new ones!
4. Cardboard Food Packaging
While cardboard might not be suitable for long-haul shipping because of the relative weakness of its form, it has plenty of great advantages if you are running a food stall or serve food to go.
Cardboard packaging is versatile in that it can take several different shapes and forms depending on what you serve. It is also made from completely renewable resources that are biodegradable and compostable making it the best choice of packaging material on the sustainability index.
However, prolonged usage might not be ideal for food packaging as the recycled paper and other materials that the packaging is made of may contain some harmful chemicals that can contaminate food.
5. Kraft Paper
Kraft paper is by far the most widely used packaging material. One of its main advantages is that it is stronger than most other commonly used packaging paper, and to that effect can be used when maximum strength is required such as for grocery bags.
Kraft paper is an excellent packaging material for food items that can be shipped in bags, and also when branding is important. Some great uses can be to package coffee, grains, sugar, and other dry goods.
On top of this, Kraft paper is also 100% sustainable. It is compostable and easily biodegradable and is produced from all-natural ingredients. The primary raw material is pulp from all types of wood. This is better than conventional paper which uses only specific kinds of wood as raw material.
Companies That Supply New & Innovative Forms of Sustainable Packaging
Aside from the old ways of packaging, companies around the world are creating new eco-friendly materials which are plant-based and imitate plastic. They are usually fully biodegradable and compostable, and sometimes even edible!
Biofutura is a decade-old international company that specializes in the development and production of compostable packaging material and disposable tableware made from 100% renewable raw materials.
Ecopack is an industry veteran and has been in operation since 1939. Over the years, they have expanded their facilities all over the world and produce fully biodegradable alternatives to plastics for packaging containers, baking molds, and bowls.
Oceanium is a Scotland-based company that specializes in the production of all-natural products that use sustainably sourced seaweed as their raw material. They develop plant-based bio-packaging materials that have a wide application.
Green Paper Products provides a very exhaustive list of all types of sustainably sourced packaging materials and containers in all shapes and sizes. To top it off, they also offer free, carbon-neutral shipping across the United States.
Liquids are always hard to package sustainably, and Ecologic has a perfect solution for just that. They have created the ECO.BOTTLE, a recyclable and compost-safe bottle for packaging liquids. Its outer layer is made from 100% recycled cardboard and old newspaper while the inner layer is made with up to 60% less plastic than traditional PET bottles.
6. Vegware UK
Vegware is a UK-based company that is the creator of a broad range of plant-based, compostable foodservice packaging. They have a wide distribution network and their catalog of over 300 products is sold across the world from Europe to South America.
BioPak is an Australian manufacturer of paper and bioplastic-based packaging materials. Their paper products are made from sustainably sourced trees, from managed plantations. All their products are either compostable or recyclable, and they offer everything from takeaway containers to straws and hot cups.
As the world moves towards better and more sustainable packaging material, these suppliers and resources will be useful for your small business to meet its sustainability goals. With the plethora of more sustainable options to serve your business needs, there is no longer a need to adopt single-use plastics for your packaging needs.