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It’s a generation ago now but back in the day as we moved towards the new Millennium and worried about what the year 2000 bug meant for our computer systems – not a lot as it turned out – packaging innovations in the late 20th Century had already transformed the food industry.
First was the development of Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) for extending the shelf life of fresh or minimally-processed food, followed in the 1990s by the evolution of packaging films and flexible packaging as ready meals and convenience foods really started to take off.
So, what have been the game-changers over the last 20 years+. Much of the focus is on eco-friendly abilities for reducing waste – sustainability, recyclability and compostability – as the food and packaging industries launch initiatives to help try and reverse the damage humankind has wrought on the planet.
Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues with many in the industry pledging only compostable materials for food packaging by 2025. WRAP has identified six problem plastics that should be eliminated by the end of 2022 meaning the pressure is on to source greener alternative packaging materials for these items.
In terms of compostable packaging, there has been many novel packaging formats created in the past few years. Replacing complicated and difficult to recycle multiple flexibles with a fully certified compostable alternative is now an option for many applications. There are opportunities for brands today to move into fully certified compostable packaging.
The driving force behind new formats are buzz words like reducing the carbon footprint, food miles, net zero, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainable sources, waste reduction and the circular economy to name just a few.
We are now in the age of the smartphone and QR codes on packs delivers an interactive experience for customers. They can learn more about the sustainability of products and packaging almost instantly. Highlighting green credentials and accurate nutritional information have proved beneficial thanks to smart packaging.
Using QR codes is an effective marketing tool and, with the corresponding era of high- definition digital printing, provides an unlimited amount of information, personalisation and glossier shelf appeal for consumers. It’s having this connection to brands that inspires loyalty as well as making shoppers more environmentally conscious about their purchases.
The introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax in April has concentrated minds. There are concerns that the charge will inflate costs and add to supply chain disruptions due to a shortage of recycled plastic. While some fear the plastic packaging tax could affect the quality of packaging to keep costs down, there are opportunities for brands to rethink their requirements, opening the way for more innovative eco-friendly packaging designs.
For example, a packaging company that has been investing in developing a cellophane-based film for wrapping confectionery. This new generation of films are made from renewable wood pulp from sustainably managed plantations and have the additional benefit of more sustainable end-of-life options.
Choosing a compostable wrapper can, depending on the application, also have a positive impact on productivity. For example, they are the perfect choice for twist wrapping chocolate, candy or lollies. These films are extremely efficient on the packaging lines, allow for higher rates and lower miswraps than any adopted plastic film.
Some of the major players in the food industry have already moved to 30+ percent recycled plastic packaging to meet the material requirements. If the long-term aim is to keep plastic packaging as long as possible in a circular loop system to significantly reduce the amount of virgin plastic, then more investment is needed for developing material for recyclability.