Navigating the paperboard jungle of sustainable packaging


By Neil Goldman, Managing Director of Colpac
Tuesday, 22 October, 2019



Navigating the paperboard jungle of sustainable packaging

Environmental sustainability and business don’t always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to food product packaging. In the past, packaging developments were focused on getting consumer attention, whereas today, the growing influence of integrity-seeking consumers is a major factor for food providers during the packaging decision-making process.

While packaging is an indispensable element for the food industry, over time, demand has grown for eco-friendlier alternatives. The need has become especially prevalent as Australia’s packaging landscape adapts itself to meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets, which will see all of the country’s packaging be either recyclable, compostable or re-usable by 2025.

Today, you can find a myriad of sustainable packaging materials on the market, often with conflicting claims. So how can we be sustainable, reinforce our brand values and have that recognised by a consumer, who is constantly bombarded by contradictory messages?

Sustainability cannot easily be communicated to consumers. Ecolabels can help, but consumers look well beyond the print and packaging to brand behaviour and their supply chains. Sustainable food packaging is extremely complex and attempting to woo environmentally minded consumers can be a double-edged sword.

To fully comprehend sustainability, you need professional expertise. While many big brands have departments dedicated to the field, many don’t. This is why any food packaging supplier worth their salt should be supporting their customers with the facts.

The ‘recyclable or compostable’ question is one which is frequently asked by foodservice operators, and the conflicting use of misused terms such as biodegradable has often perplexed the industry — who of us saw biodegradable as an invitation to litter for excuse-hungry consumers? While recyclability and composting have their own environmental merits, it is important to set these in the context of how and where they are going to be used and packaging disposed of. The solution begins with the end in mind.

Equally, we need to remember that packaging drives the revenues which pay for more environmentally sustainable packs. With over a third of customers gauging the freshness of a product from its appearance, packaging, particularly in the ‘food-to-go’ arena, has visibility as a key factor for the choice of solution. However, that’s difficult to achieve within a plastic-free agenda.

A paperboard base and cellulose-based film combination can provide the fresh visibility consumers look for in food products, while providing space for the all-important messaging and branding. Perhaps as importantly, it also means there’s more chance of the pack being properly disposed of. This combination can be recycled with board or it can be industrially composted — if the local waste and infrastructure provision allows. With so much of the sustainability agenda demanding much of consumers, building in simplicity will help.

While consumers’ tastes will always evolve, sustainable packaging is here to stay. But relying on a good food packaging supplier, who has the most up-to-date sustainable materials and information at their fingertips, will enable food producers and manufacturers to stay in step with the pace of change.

Image caption: Colpac’s Zest Eco-Packaging range.

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