Today, it’s hard to imagine a person who doesn’t understand the importance of recycling. And yet, in practice, we still rely on plenty of non-recyclable materials — especially in the food industry. The stats on non-recyclable food packaging vary from country to country but remain pretty alarming.
An Australian 2021 study, for example, found that over 80% of food packaging is non-recyclable. In the EU, non-recyclable food packaging, especially plastics, still constitutes 40% of the total used in the industry. The US has similar rates, ranging from 40% to 45% of non-recyclable packaging.
The numbers may seem shocking but think for a moment how many times a day you come across food packaging items that cannot be recycled. Plastic, styrofoam, and non-recyclable wrappers — those are everywhere in the food industry. In fact, it’s more surprising to stumble upon recyclable food packaging than non-recyclable ones.
But there are many reasons why businesses in the food services industry should consider the switch to recyclable packaging — besides the obvious benefit for the environment, of course.
Top reasons to use recyclable food packaging
Adherence to legal regulations
The planet-friendly cat is out of the bag, and governments worldwide regularly implement new environmental protection laws. The regulations for businesses will not become any laxer — quite the opposite. So, even from a strictly business perspective, it makes sense to start preparing for this now. This way is the surest to avoid increased taxation and profit loss in the future.
Lower production costs in the long run
Most businesses are reluctant to switch to sustainable packaging because building a new infrastructure seems too expensive. But it’s essential to see this change not as an expense but as an investment — both in the planet’s and one’s business’s future. It will require a downpayment, true. But in the long run, switching to sustainable food packaging can result in lower production costs — especially if there is a chance to implement a take-back policy and recycle some of your used packaging in-house.
Even if not, there is always a chance to partner with other businesses with recycling facilities. In any case, the end production cost should decrease in the long run — and that does not even consider additional tax burdens for not adhering to sustainable production policies.
Protection of food from chemicals
Low-quality, non-recyclable packaging is simply not healthy and can leak chemicals into food over time. It may seem that delivering a burger to the client’s door can be done before the leek begins, but it’s not as simple as that. After all, the food industry is not just about a drive-in order from McDonald’s or Burger King. For many companies, it involves storing and shipment — and here, sustainable packing is a must. But even quick delivery companies can score some extra points with the customers if they deliver their goods in healthy, non-toxic wrappers.
Strengthening the brand image
Today’s marketplace is all about branding, and highlighting the business’s sustainability, along with the use of non-toxic packaging materials, is one of the surest ways to strengthen this image. Besides, non-recyclable food wrappers often lack aesthetic looks, while using sustainable packaging can be another attraction point for the end buyers. Then again, we all know how important it is to address your audience regularly, and speaking about a company’s updated eco-friendly policies gives businesses another topic for their social media campaigns.
Access to a larger client pool
Eventually, sustainable food packaging results in a more extensive client pool. The younger generation of consumers demands sustainability from businesses, no matter if a company is in car manufacturing, retail, or the food industry. For the food industry, it means that companies should not only provide eco-packaging for supermarkets and grocery stores. They must also consider their delivery options for home deliveries and office orders. Otherwise, they risk losing a massive consumer market share that will only increase in the future.
Better sustainability reports in the future
All major business corporations publish regular sustainability reports. At first, this practice was voluntary in the US, but since the beginning of Biden’s administration, the new emphasis is on obligatory reporting. So, it leads to the same point we started with — sustainability regulations are not becoming laxer. In fact, running an unsustainable business is getting ever more challenging, so if companies want to avoid poor reports in the future, it is time to start making a change — and soon.
Quality examples of eco-food packaging
By now, it should be pretty clear that any food businesses that have not yet switched to sustainable packaging should do it as quickly as possible. But where to start? What types of sustainable packaging are there in the first place? Sustainable food packaging can be compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable. Each of these types has its drawbacks and benefits, of course.
Compostable food packaging
This is the best and the most environmentally friendly option, even though the choice of 100% compostable materials is somewhat limited. Compostable packaging goes down to paper (including parchment paper), cardboard, and bioplastic. The main challenges are associated with the last one because to greenwash their production policies, many manufacturers claim their bioplastic to be fully compostable, but in practice, it’s not always so. For example, if the ‘compostable’ packaging has a film lining, the lining at least will not decompose as quickly as it should.
Biodegradable food packaging
Biodegradable materials are also a good choice, especially if engineered right. Today’s most common option is biodegradable plastic from organic materials like corn or soy. Some types of biodegradable packaging and lining may even be edible — for example, gelatin and algae. Still, the most dangerous pitfall of using biodegradable plastics is that some of these plastics are not 100% biodegradable. Cheaper options may break down to standard plastic.
Recyclable food packaging
Another good choice includes different materials, such as glass, metal, and aluminum. Here, the major challenge is consumer behavior and government infrastructure. For recycling to work, consumers need to submit the packaging to relevant recycling stations. In contrast, governments need to make sure the recycling is done right, without dumping any waste in the ocean or anywhere else. Fortunately, we already see significant progress on both the consumer and governmental levels. So, this might be the best option we’ve got so far.
Reusable food packaging
The good old classic is the reusable food packaging — mainly glass bottles and containers. This is a perfect example of how an initial investment into quality packaging can eventually reduce production costs —provided, of course, the packaging is returned or the consumers keep re-using the items themselves. It’s true that reusable containers will not suit any business type. However, this approach remains the top choice when sustainability is concerned.
Of course, a business’s choice of sustainable food packaging mostly depends on this business’s specifics. But one thing is sure — it is vital to start considering eco-packaging, even though it seems like a small thing to do for our planet. On the other hand, every person on the planet needs food, so the sheer consumption numbers make sustainable food packaging a more significant issue than it seems at first.