An estimated 8.8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans every year. Programs like “Blue Planet II” have highlighted the problem to a global audience and now consumers are demanding change. What are the options for brands that want to introduce more environmentally friendly packaging options?
Most packaging is discarded after a single use. Of the 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging that is produced globally every year, only 14% is recycled. Most of this waste ends up in landfill sites or the environment and, because it is lightweight and floatable, this means it often finds its way into our oceans.
The size of the problem is astounding. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean there is an ‘island’ of plastic debris roughly twice the size of the continental United States. It is estimated that around 100 million tons of debris is currently floating in our oceans and most of it is disposable plastic food packaging containers and plastic bags.
The physical waste is not the only concern. Chemicals within the packaging have been linked to a wide variety of health issues, including obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disruption, reproductive and developmental issues, and organ damage.
Consumers are beginning to influence the debate by forcing companies to look for packing materials that are recyclable/biodegradable/compostable. A study conducted in China, Finland, Germany and the US in 2019 found that over half of the respondents would be willing to pay more for renewable food packaging. Some country’s citizens were more willing pay than others – 85% of Chinese respondents said they would pay more as opposed to 46% in the US. When looking at who consumers felt should be responsible for reducing plastic food packaging waste, 56% of US respondents felt it was the responsibility of the brand.
At the same time, authorities around the world are introducing regulations to reduce the use of plastic in food packaging. Cities such as New York, Washington and San Francisco have already banned single-use food packaging items such as Styrofoam coffee cups, plates and food boxes, and Malibu in California has recently banned plastic straws – it is estimated the US uses 500 million plastic straws a day.
Some companies are already responding. A major global coffee chain has committed itself to phasing out the use of plastic straws by 2020, instead they will provide lids with sipping spouts. They have also pledged to replace single-use packaging with reusable packaging.
This is just one corporation among many around the world that are actively introducing more sustainable packaging that is less reliant on plastic. What is clear, is that there are many options available to brands when it comes to reducing plastic use; they are not all the same and each one can have a major impact.
‘Diversity’ is the best word to describe the range of options available to brands looking to replace plastic packaging. This is illustrated by the various approaches being taken to the issue of plastic straws: many companies have moved to paper straws, one enterprising café in Malibu has started using pasta straws, and the major coffee corporation has decided to simply design a new type of lid.
The simplest option for many brands is to simply change the material being used in the packaging. Options include transparent ethylene-based polymers that dissolves in water, another might be edible materials (which are therefore compostable). What consumers want to see is packaging that is biodegradable/compostable but which is still able to protect the product it is enclosing.
The first step is it to ensure the foodstuff is safe when it reaches the consumer. Packaging must protect but it must also not alter the foodstuff in terms of taste or smell, and it must not release harmful chemicals into the foodstuff. Companies therefore need to have an effective food safety process in place that covers raw materials. Consumers want more recycling but they are becoming cognizant that recycled materials can also contain harmful chemicals. Brands also need to be certain they only use production facilities that employ food safety management systems that ensure products comply with relevant regulations.
With demands for safer and more environmentally friendly products increasing around the world, brands need to find a globally recognized way of ensuring their packaging supply chain is working efficiently and to the correct standard. BRCGS Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials certification ensures the right product safety and quality management programs are being employed along the supply chain. Recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), this standard emphasizes the need for continual improvements, and it demonstrates a commitment to producing safe, functional and legal products.
Benefits of the standard include:
• Global recognition
• Brand and consumer confidence increased
• Marketable status
• Cost-effective and achievable by all
The standard includes all the provisions necessary to deliver safe and compliant packaging. This includes a step-by-step approach to risk management, senior management commitment, a quality management system, and a series of pre-requisite programs that deal with the basic environmental and operational conditions needed for the production of safe and hygienic packaging.
SGS offers a range of services to help brands and manufacturers deliver safe and compliant food and food packaging, including support during the adoption of the BRCGS Global Standard for Packing and Packaging Products.
Learn more about BRCGS Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials Certification