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Going zero waste: removing secondary packaging from food and drink

Three plastic bottles without labels
Mae Mu/Unsplash
Apr 30, 2022 By WGSN Insider
Food & Drink

“The ultimate goal around sustainability for packaging is zero waste, so any innovation that removes layers is a step in the right direction,” says Jennifer Creevy, WGSN’s Director of Food & Drink.

A recent study estimated that just 14% of plastic packaging is recycled globally and part of the reason is because plastic can be difficult to separate from other waste. Following the world’s push to fix the plastic waste crisis, many innovations are being tested and scaled to remove secondary packaging, such as designing with mono-materials to facilitate easier recycling.

Here are the highlights from Jennifer Creevy’s conversation with Raconteur/The Times, covering the waste issue in the industry as well as some creative approaches to removing excess packaging. 

Plastic bottles lined up
mali maeder/Pexels

Mono-material solutions

The food and drink sector is investing hugely in sustainable packaging, but it’s not easy. Packaging has to be food-safe as well as hit sustainable goals. Innovators are creating food-safe, fully recyclable, mono-material pouch solutions, which are available for a range of products from soups to alcohol.

Cut fruits in plastic packaging
White.Rainforest ∙ 易雨白林./Unsplash

Eco-conscious consumers

Though brands are working on solutions for environmental reasons, this follows emerging consumer needs and values. While food safety will remain the number one concern with packaging, consumers are increasingly expecting brands to find solutions that are also environmentally friendly. 

Brands can tap into this by clearly displaying their efforts on-pack and sharing their journey with customers. For example, using edible inks is one way of still being able to design the packs how you’d like them while showing your audience that you’re not compromising on sustainability. They can also make a story of their journey and set up circular solutions to achieve zero waste, which helps drive positive brand awareness.

Person repackaging pistachios into bag
Sarah Chai/Pexels

Packaging innovations

The market is seeing advancements in materials and design that mitigate the potential issues with removing secondary packaging, from edible coatings made with leftover peel from fresh fruit and vegetables, to fully compostable food-safe trays made with upcycled bagasse from sugarcane waste or other upcycled materials such as waste from olive stones. 

These are being tested for food safety, which is the biggest barrier to removing packaging in the food and drink industry.

WGSN subscribers can discover more packaging innovations in our Tackling the Plastic Problem and Future of Packaging 2027 reports and listen out for a forthcoming episode on our WGSN Create Tomorrow podcast.

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