Waste versus pollution

Just as a chef dresses his dishes, retail packaging contributes to the overall experience of food products. In the process of product development, therefore, it is not only the content that is important but also the packaging that is directly considered. We are ever more demanding of ourselves: not only in terms of looks, information, protection and conservation but also in terms of environmental impact. In a series of trend stories, we highlight various food trends and their effects on trends in packaging. Sustainability lies at the heart of Part 1.

Consumers want to eat more consciously and are increasingly averse to waste. Packaging plays an important role in this food trend. Which materials should you choose? How do you give products a longer shelf life? But also: how does shelf life relate to pollution? After all, one is often contradictory to the other.

Looking for the right, sustainable materials

‘Within the coming decade, we want to make all our packaging suitable for recycling or reuse’ This ambition was announced by prominent food companies such as Nestlé, Unilever and Coca-Cola in 2018. This statement has led to an accelerated search by the packaging industry for alternatives to polluting packaging materials.

Major steps are being taken, for example, in the development of bio-based and biodegradable plastics. In addition, more and more use is being made of recyclable materials. The non-food industry is at the forefront of the use of these materials. In the food business, the pressing question is: are these materials also suitable for direct contact with food products? This is currently the subject of a great deal of research. Especially when it comes to packaging fresh produce, you need to make well-informed choices in order to guarantee food safety and quality.

Food Safety with recycled materials

Wim van Winkel is Packaging Engineer at Euroma: ‘When using recycled materials for food products, food safety is an absolute precondition. For example, 60% of glass packaging is made from cullet. This recycled material is heated to 1200 oC. Moreover, glass is impermeable to harmful substances and bacteria. As a result, food safety can be guaranteed with this material. For various recycled plastics, for example, this is not yet clear.'

Enabling waste separation

The packaging industry is therefore currently fully focused on finding suitable materials that consumers can recycle or compost. In addition to the challenges of producing these materials, consumer behaviour is also a key factor in their success; namely, their ability and willingness to separate waste and return it cleanly. In addition to the government stimulating this by means of returnable deposits, food producers can also make a contribution to this.

Mono-material use

Wim van Winkel: ‘In order to make waste separation and collection more accessible and easier, we are taking a critical look at our range of packaging. Packaging often consists of several materials. By switching to mono-materials, it will be easier for consumers to return their waste separately. We are currently working on replacing a jar made of three different materials with a jar made entirely of recyclable plastic.’

Saving on material

Separating waste is one thing. We would ideally prefer to create the smallest possible waste stream. In terms of materials, we are also making the necessary efforts to minimise our overall use of packaging materials.

Smart solutions for Waste Reduction

Wim van Winkel: ‘In the area of retail packaging, increasing awareness is being shown about the amount of packaging material used. Although there is less movement in the packaging market for B2B and Foodservice than there is in the B2C packaging market, here too, we are seeing countless attempts to make it more sustainable. For example, sauces for the catering industry are often packed in buckets. These, however, can generate quite a lot of waste. A possible solution could be to deliver the sauces as a bag-in-box or bag-in-crate. A bucket can easily weigh up to 400 grams. The plastic bag has a weight of only 50 to 120 grams. A significant reduction in plastic waste.’

Less food wastage

We hear it almost every day: we are all wasting far too much food. This must be reduced. One of the causes of waste is often due to excessive amounts of food in a package. That is why food products are now much more often (also) offered in smaller portions.

Smaller portions

Wim van Winkel: The herb shelves in the supermarket often still contain large pots of herbs. But people often only need small portions because they want to try out a recipe, for example. Large stocks of herbs are unnecessary and undesirable because there is a greater chance that they will end up being thrown away unused. That is why Euroma is developing various portion packs and why we have recently introduced smaller sized plastic bottles. A small contribution to reducing food wastage.'

Get everything out that's inside

Many consumers are not happy having to dispose of products which they cannot remove from the packaging. Think of squeeze bottles that do not empty completely. Finding a solution to this problem contributes to a positive and sustainable image. An American university has come up with a bottle with a special coating. This "LiquiGlide" coating allows the ketchup to come directly out of the bottle. It is not yet clear whether and when these bottles will be put into production.

Fresh for longer

Another solution to food waste from the packaging industry: smart innovations that extend the freshness of food. They avoid loss by safe transport and help the consumer to throw away less food at home. As a food producer, you contribute to the prevention of food waste.

For example, a gas mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide is often added to meat, vegetables and fruit to prevent spoilage and decay. We also see a type of meat packaging with an inbuilt drip tray, as a result of which the meat no longer comes into contact with moisture and its shelf life is extended.

The apparent contradiction of such actions to prolong shelf life is that they often involve more packaging material. There is a lot of criticism of the enormous amount of fruit and vegetables that are packed in plastic. It is a question of weighing up where the most waste takes place: at the beginning of the chain where raw materials can fall prey to bacteria, or at the end, where people throw away too much.

Encouraging reuse
The discussion on food waste arises from the need to deal with our planet in a more sustainable way. Reusable packaging is seen as an important way for brands to contribute to a cleaner world.

Smaller portions

Wim van Winkel: An example of encouraging reuse is the packaging of Euroma's own consumer brand. The 100% pure herbs, spices and blends are packaged in trendy cans, glass and ceramics pots. Many people save them and display them in their kitchens. The attractive look of these packagings is not only aimed at stimulating sales, but also at promoting the reuse of them. This is further encouraged by the use of easily removable, 'peelable’ labels. If the consumer no longer wants to use the packaging, it is always recyclable. The glass jars go into the glass recycling container. The cans and metal lids of the pots can be reused in the PMD container and the ceramic pots as a tea light holder or as a flower pot.

Learn more about packaging

There are many other trends in packaging. Consumers want to be surprised and packaging contributes to this. In addition, there are a number of innovations that increase their ease of use. More about this in Part 2 of this series.

Are you looking for more inspiration or have any questions about your product's packaging? Euroma has an extensive range of products and is happy to discuss these with you. For more information about our packaging solutions, please contact our Marketing & Innovation Manager, Pernella Geluk.

Would you like to improve an existing product or packaging, or are you looking for product innovations?

Ask Pernella to arrange an inspiration workshop for you.