What is eco-friendly food packaging?

Eco-friendly and sustainable products have been all the rage for some time now. From ditching plastic carrier bags to canning plastic straws, an increasing number of governments worldwide are wising up to the devastating damage that single-use plastics do to our environment. And with consumers now demanding less packaging on products, or eco-friendly packaging as a minimum, the tide is beginning to turn.

In fact, it is probably now a case of companies having to provide eco-friendly solutions to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ as opposed to being considered a trail-blazer, as it’s now simply expected that businesses try to reduce their carbon footprint and do their bit for sustainability.

McDonald’s and Starbucks are just two of the huge multinational companies who have pledged to work towards making all packaging eco-friendly and sustainable. McDonald’s made the vow to do so by 2025, while Starbucks is aiming to halve its carbon emissions, waste output and water impact by 2030.

But when it comes to food packaging, what actually constitutes eco-friendly?

Many of us will be used to picking up our Chinese takeaway in see-through, plastic containers with plastic lids, in a plastic carrier bag. Or, if you’re more partial to a pizza, that ‘100% recyclable’ cardboard box it’s delivered in can actually cause a whole batch of recycling to be totally worthless, due to the greasy residue and melted cheese left behind. So, the whole lot could end up being sent straight to landfill – not so eco-friendly.

Luckily, plenty of work is going in to creating new, genuinely eco-friendly packaging. Research, innovative engineering and scientific developments mean there is now a whole host of food packaging on the market which is not only better for the environment than traditional products, but which is perfect for safely storing your food and keeping it kitchen-fresh and delicious at the same time, while also becoming increasingly cost-effective.

This is particularly true of plant-based packaging and bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), while new label and resin materials mean more finished products can be recycled, as water-based label adhesives take over from traditional adhesives, which previously meant a lot of products couldn’t be recycled.

But the term ‘eco-friendly packaging’ covers a wide-reaching set of products. From those which are manufactured from 100% raw or 100% recycled materials, to those which are created via a minimal production process or supply chain, and those which are recyclable or reusable, creating a circular economy to extend the product lifecycle – this all helps products enhance their environmental credentials.

And now, beyond the odd product being produced from paper or card rather than plastic, there’s an enormous variety to choose from, meaning that whatever your company’s requirements, there’s sure to be eco-friendly food packaging solutions to suit.

Eco-friendly takeaway burger boxes, sauce pots, coffee cups, food bags, salad containers and sandwich triangles are now fairly commonplace, but now even palm leaf plates and dishes, cutlery and produce trays can be purchased, and – baring in mind the current climate – even environmentally-friendly hygiene products are available – ideal for any restaurant, fast food outlet or mobile catering service.

Do these materials actually make effective food packaging?

While going eco-friendly is an honourable ambition for any company, the reality for businesses is that products and materials need to be cost-effective and provide a good service for the consumer, or they will soon be voting with their feet.

As mentioned above, developments are constantly taking place to help advance the quality of materials and reduce costs. Plant-based bioplastics, such as those used to make Simply Eco Packaging’s PLA sauce pots, make for clear and sturdy products, ideal for safely holding smoothies, jam, honey, compotes and cold sauces.

Meanwhile, premium quality bio paper coffee cups offer superior stability, better lid fit and insulation.

Design elements can also help enhance the quality of eco-friendly packaging and, as a result, the food itself. For example, the gourmet burger boxes available through Simply Eco Packaging come with small ventilation holes integrated into the lids. This keeps the burgers mouth-wateringly fresh and prevents the heat and steam from making them soggy during transit.

So, there are plenty of cost and quality benefits beyond the eco-friendly nature of the packaging.

Are there any drawbacks to eco-friendly packaging?

Now, despite all of the great benefits, at this stage it’s fair to say even the most eco-friendly food packaging isn’t completely perfect. Recycling still requires energy and resources, plus transportation of the materials, while biodegradable materials can take many years to break down and can leave a metallic residue. Compostable packaging, meanwhile, requires very specific conditions to decompose and, when it comes to items beyond an apple core or potato peelings, is likely to need an industrial composting facility to actually provide the right conditions to turn into compost.

However, many of the products available through Simply Eco Packaging are manufactured from renewable sugarcane pulp, a by-product of the sugar refinery industry, meaning the trays are both home and commercially compostable.

It’s also important to note that plant-based products are sometimes produced in areas where huge expanses of rainforests have been destroyed to create room to grow the crops required. However, it’s possible to purchase packaging, such as that available through Simply Eco Packaging, which is made from paper sourced from managed plantations. These forests provide clean air and water, maintain soil quality, preserve biodiversity and habitats, and sequester CO2, among many other ecosystem services.

Regardless, it shouldn’t be overlooked that whether packaging is recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, it all means it’s not being sent to landfill, which can only be good for the environment.

Where can I find eco-friendly packaging for my company?

At Simply Eco Packaging, we have a fantastic range of biodegradable, compostable and recyclable food packaging and supplementary products, such as cutlery and napkins, ideal for helping your company meet its sustainability targets, while providing outstanding quality to your customers.