With more than 8 million tonnes of plastic estimated to enter the ocean this year alone, non-biodegradable packaging remains a concern for all businesses, particularly food companies who are one of the biggest users of plastic. Given the rapidly growing world-wide focus on organic, ethical, sustainable products, consumers are now also demanding that the packaging of products be just as environmentally sound.

The issue of sustainable packaging for businesses requires close analysis and documentation as far as the package design, choice of materials, processing, and life-cycle of the product goes. Companies which choose to implement eco-friendly actions are reducing their carbon footprint, using more recycled materials and reusing more package components. Often, they encourage suppliers, contract packagers, and distributors to do likewise.

Sustainable packaging – a driver for business

Sustainable packaging also has the potential to drive business for organic operators as consumers who are interested in supporting sustainability may be more inclined to purchase goods that come in bio-degradable wrapping.

There has been interesting research conducted, and actions implemented, in recent times into the issue. For instance, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service in the US are looking into using dairy-based films as an alternative to petroleum-based packaging. Instead of being made of synthetic polymers, these dairy-based films would be composed of proteins such as whey and casein which are found in milk.

The films would be biodegradable and offer better oxygen barriers than synthetic, chemical-based films. More research is still needed to improve the water barrier quality of the dairy-based film but advances are actively being pursued.

A recent study done by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute for Iggesund Paperboard also found that switching material from plastic to paperboard can greatly reduce a packaging’s climate impact. For example, when packaging light bulbs by switching from plastic to paperboard, it is possible to reduce the climate impact of the packaging by 99 percent.

What some major companies are now doing

Major companies are now also following suit and putting thoughts into actions. McDonald’s recently announced that it will source all packaging from recycled, renewable or certified sources by 2025. Starbucks also has announced that it aims to launch a fully recyclable and compostable coffee cup within three years further emphasizes the transition.

“There are masses of packagings that cannot be made in anything other than plastic today,” Johan Granas from Iggesund Paperboard emphasises. “But there is also packaging made of plastic where it is easy to switch materials without losing function at all – it is logical to start there if we want to reduce packaging’s climate impact.”