Eco-Friendly Packaging Trends in a Post-Straw World

Waste not, want not.

That saying has been around for a few centuries, but its meaning is as relevant and pivotal as ever, as the collective clamor grows for reducing packaging and food waste. Starbucks’ announcement this summer that the company is eliminating the use of plastic straws for cold beverages was the latest high-profile declaration of a brand’s steps to cut down on packaging waste.

Recent market research confirms the public’s desire for more sustainable (or at least less landfill-bound) packaging. According to findings from research firm Innova Market Insights, consumer interest has led the annual growth rate for sustainable packaging to jump 26 percent from 2013 to 2017.

Another survey, from data analytics company GlobalData, shows that more than half (53%) of consumers always or mostly avoid what they deem to be excessively-packaged grocery products. And many buyers understand the cost: according to findings from the Sustainable Brands community of sustainability-focused businesses, 42% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to eco-friendlier products and packaging.

Many brands have signaled such a commitment to reducing packaging waste. Mars has been using biodegradable packaging for Snickers bars since 2016, utilizing materials derived in part from potato processing wastewater. Yogurt brand Skyr has moved away from a polypropylene shrink-sleeved cup to a clear, 100% recyclable cup with a removable printed-paper label. Barilla, an Italian brand with a portfolio of products in the U.S. market, announced that it was working with a company called TerraCycle on 100% recyclable packaging for its Ready Pasta line.

Leading foodservice brands are also paving the way as market influencers. For example, McDonald’s announced that all of its customer packaging will be derived from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.

Given the demand and pace of change, innovations in greener packaging materials and formats continue. For instance, researchers at Purdue University recently announced a new process using renewable raw material (cellulose nanocrystals) to make advanced barrier coatings for food packages. “The challenge for the food packaging industry is to create a recyclable and sustainable barrier material that is low-cost. Our innovation using CNC coatings is transparent, nontoxic and sustainable,” notes Jeffrey Youngblood, team leader and a professor in the university’s School of Materials Engineering.

Packaging is just one part of a greater movement towards “clean” products that are better for humans and the planet, say others. An “EcoFocus” trend study from Evergreen Packaging and EcoFocus Worldwide reveals that clean ingredients and clean packaging are among key trends that will continue to shape the food and beverage industries. “The study analysis results illustrate a movement toward fresh, high-quality, natural foods and sustainable packaging. For brands with these advantages, it’s more important than ever before to clearly communicate a commitment to these values in order to stand out on the crowded grocery shelves and aid consumers in their purchasing decisions,” remarks Linda Gilbert, study author and CEO of EcoFocus Worldwide.


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