Measurement Solutions Blog

Sustainable packaging is one of the biggest talking points in the world of food.

January 31 to February 2 saw the 2017 International Production and Processing Expo take place in Atlanta, Georgia. The event focuses on innovation in the food and beverage industry, and while there was a large focus on processing and manufacturing, there was also a firm emphasis places on how food is presented and consumed.

With more and more businesses starting to prioritise environmental friendless, attention has turned to packaging and how companies can reduce their impact on the world around them. In the spirit of this key focus area, we thought we'd take a look at the origins of the sustainable packaging movement and explore a few examples. 

There are multiple points in the food manufacturing process where waste can be reduced, but the most critical point is what's called 'end-of-life.' 

The origins of sustainable packaging

The first real explosion of sustainable packaging within the industry occurred in 2006 with the reveal of Wal-Mart's Packaging Scorecard. This introduced the concept of 'reduce, reuse, recycle' to the world of food, influencing not just manufacturers, but their customers as well. Of course, the importance of reducing waste and focusing on recyclable materials had been widely talked about before this, but it wasn't until a few large companies started making a concerted effort to alter their packaging that the trend really caught on. 

There are multiple points in the food manufacturing process where waste can be reduced, but the most critical point is what's called 'end-of-life.' As the name suggests, this is the impact a piece of packaging will have once it is no longer required to store the product, and it's the focus of most of the industry's drive towards sustainability, according to Starbucks Director of Environmental Impact Jim Hanna.

Speaking to Packaging Digest, Hanna said that: "Consumers define sustainable packaging by focusing on end-of-life. That's caused us to focus a lot of effort and resources into creating solutions for our packaging because we know that's what resonates most with our customers."

The desire to target end-of-life wastage saw Starbucks introduce its purchasable reusable coffee cups in 2013 – a move that not only impressed discerning consumers but also provided a new source of revenue for the company. In fact, a Forbes article from the same period predicted the move could "make millions," while also reducing the costs associated with producing countless disposable cups. 

A disposable solution

It's important to keep in mind that not every food or beverage manufacturing company has the same ability as Starbucks to minimise their environmental impact so hugely. The reusable cup concept doesn't work with other types of drinks that don't have a stall on every corner, and the model certainly doesn't apply to bags of chips or other 'disposable' goods. 

For these brands, the answer is to use less packaging and make the materials that remain as efficient to recycle as possible. Enter the Coca-Cola PlantBottle. 

The drive towards sustainability shouldn't come at the expense of quality, or indeed quantity.

The PlantBottle is made via a process that turns sugarcane into PET plastic, and – according to the beverage giant – some 2.5 billion packages have reached consumers so far. That's an enormous reduction of waste in the manufacture process, and PET plastic is much easier to recycle than alternatives like PVC. Not every brand has the resources available to create their own sustainable packaging solution, but the hope is that as the processes become more affordable, we'll see a marked reduction in the amount of difficult-to-recycle materials that end up in the trash. 

It's important to remember, though, that the drive towards sustainability shouldn't come at the expense of quality, or indeed quantity. The right checkweighing procedures remain critical to ensuring that customers get the same product they are used to, only in a more environmentally friendly package!

To find out more about ensuring product integrity, regardless of the container it comes in, contact SRO Technology today