Smart packaging designed to leave nothing behind
With the war on packaging waste, together with 2025 global packaging targets, it’s fair to say that the food packaging industry is busy finding new ways for smarter packaging.
The strong media focus on ‘end-of-life’ for packaging means consumer awareness and demand for green solutions is growing, along with the increasing concerns that packaging is ending up in our landfill and oceans.
While efforts to reduce end-of-life impact are certainly critical, the significance packaging plays in protecting food and reducing food waste is often underestimated. So as we get busy finding new smarter ways for packaging, where exactly should we be focusing?
Designing food packaging for longer product shelf life and product protection is a non-negotiable. Resources need to be optimised and end-of-life taken into account. Well-designed packaging takes full life-cycle into account, end-of-life cannot be considered in isolation of the primary role of packaging.
Reducing, re-using and recycling are great ways to make a smart difference. But the best way is to embrace the opportunity to re-design, reinvent and change the status quo. For example, fresh proteins packed in a modified atmosphere tray lid configuration require absorbent pads to retain product purge. In fact, across ANZ’s fresh meat sector, more than 750 million soiled pads end up in landfill each year. Rather than redesigning the pad to make it recyclable and thus address ‘end-of-life’ concerns, a total rethink of the solution gave rise to a new sustainable way. Sealed Air’s Cryovac HydroLoQ barrier tray is a new concept where product purge is retained by the purposefully designed cavities in the tray, thereby eliminating the need for a soaker pad. The recyclable tray offers extended product freshness and shelf life and with no soaker pad to dispose of, Cryovac HydroLoQ is designed to leave nothing behind.
Another example of redesign and reinventing is the gradual evolution from modified atmosphere packaging technology to vacuum skin technology, which offers a step change to our food value chain. Cryovac Darfresh (top picture) for example is proven to at least double shelf life of fresh red meat, enhance logistic and retail efficiencies and offer an enhanced consumer experience. Extended shelf life of this magnitude means less food waste, less packaging waste and it means better profits for our processors and this means better business sustainability. Not to mention the best eating experience available.
Smart design means smart for everyone along the value chain, from processors to retailers and consumers. While down gauging (reducing) ticks one box, its benefits cannot be negated by poor operational throughput, down time and lost profits. Cryovac OptiDure is a great example where traditional barrier shrink bags have been re-engineered to use less material, drive improved abuse resistance, and improve operational efficiency and throughput. Its leading clarity and gloss characteristics drives stronger shelf aesthetics and that means greater consumer appeal. And once the product is opened, consumers can place the shrink bag into polyolefin recycling streams. A holistic approach to packaging design will yield the best outcome, but a design around end-of-life only is a flawed approach. The noise around end-of-life alone should not dictate future packaging design and development.
Beyond saving food and delivering operational excellence, smart design must also take into account product and consumer safety. As we commit to including recycled content into ‘direct food contact’ packaging, we cannot simply introduce a new recycled element into a redesign without proper validation. This is not an area of guesswork and must be validated from a regulatory perspective, ensuring it meets all necessary food law requirements.
While all of this logic may resonate across industry professionals, this is a story waiting to be told. In the minds of consumers, plastic waste is still perceived to be worse for the environment than food waste. According to a recent survey*, ANZ consumers agree that re-sealable packaging is the best way to reduce household food waste. The findings also show that packaging has a reputational impact on the supermarket. More than 45% of ANZ shoppers state they would react positively to a store promoting their food items as being packaged in a way that optimises food freshness.
Now is the time for education and B2C communication. Consumers need to understand how packaging contributes to a safer and less wasteful food supply chain. They need to know how it impacts food accessibility around the world and how it drives better business sustainability for local producers and processors. Brand owners have a role in telling this story. Without a story, consumers and non-industry stakeholders see packaging as an unnecessary, simply adding to our waste piles.
To reduce is priority, but whether we design for reduce, re-use or recycle, the full product lifecycle must be at front of mind when designing packaging. A smart design that yields a sustainable outcome for all of our value chain is a fail-proof way of leaving our environment in a better place than which it was found. And that’s a stronger story we should all own.
Not sure where to start? Head to the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines, a tool designed to help review and optimise consumer packaging to make efficient use of resources and reduce environmental impact without compromising product quality and safety.
*Sealed Air Study – Consumer and Retailer Perceptions of Food Packaging and Food Waste
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