Food In Canada

Packaging: Unlocking innovations to promote sustainable packaging

September 22, 2021   by Carol Zweep


Packaging is a crucial part of any product, designed to entice consumers to make a purchase and convey relevant information. It also provides protection and facilitates transportation and storage throughout the supply chain. In the industry, we are experiencing an unprecedented push for innovation as consumers, package converters and government programs push for more sustainable solutions.

Earlier this year, a group of businesses, NGOs and government organizations launched the Canada Plastics Pact to establish a united front against plastics pollution. This platform encourages reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic, metal, glass or fibre packaging.

The packaging industry continues to evolve and innovate to find more sustainable solutions, transforming a creative idea into practical reality. This can result in changes to not only design, graphics and messaging, but also to material choices and functionality.

Finding new applications

Diageo is the first to create a 100 per cent plastic-free, paper-based spirits bottle for its Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch whisky. Traditionally packaged in glass bottles, Diageo has created an attractive bottle from sustainably sourced pulp that is fully recyclable. Developed by Pulpex, this patented technology is expected to become cheaper than glass bottles and, in the future, be capable of holding carbonated and hot-fill products. The ability to customize shapes and to use embossing and sustainable colour pigments and labels shows great potential for this new technology.

FruchtBar, a German food company, is also making the switch to recyclable packaging for its baby food pouches. Originally made from non-recyclable multi-layer laminated materials, the company is transitioning to a monolayer recyclable pouch with the help of Gualapack. Another recent shift came from John B. Sanfilippo & Son, which transitioned its non-recyclable composite can for nut products to a recyclable PET canister (SmartCan from Ring Container Technologies).

Compostable materials

World Centric has developed a tree-free, plant-based and compostable pizza boxes.

Nabob and Maxwell House developed a zero-waste solution for coffee pods. All the pod components including lids, rings and filter, along with the used coffee grounds are compostable. Also, the bag holding the coffee pods is also compostable and the carton can be recycled.

Comeback of reusable materials

Reusable packaging is making a resurgence with companies like Loop, which delivers name-brand products in reusable glass and metal containers to customers’ doors and, once emptied, picks the containers up for reuse and refill.

In the Netherlands, a pilot program called SharePack is partnering with restaurants to provide reusable delivery containers. Customers can return the containers to drop-off locations where participating restaurants wash and reuse them. This program will eliminate the large volume of single-use takeout containers.

Another innovation is giving consumers the ability to eat the package instead of throwing it away. Leading this trend is Notpla, which has created a seaweed-based edible capsule for drinks called Ooho. These pods – filled with sport drinks and energy gel – can be consumed by runners while on the go and eliminate the need for plastic bottles and disposable cups.

Recycling amplified

A relatively new innovation on the scene is digital watermarking technology, which enables a much higher sorting and recycling capture rate for packaging and helps reduce waste. Digimarc technology works by modifying the pixels of the packaging to carry an imperceptible code that is undetectable to the consumer but can be picked up by cameras, such as one installed on a sorting line at a waste management facility. Digimarc has been used for Procter & Gamble’s Lenor fabric softener but can be utilized in food packaging as well.

Ultimately, sustainable packaging can reduce environmental impact and meet consumer demand for eco-friendly options. We are seeing encouraging innovations in this space that are pioneering new, and better, ways to tackle the problem of reducing waste. Whether through thoughtful research, developmental testing, pilot evaluations or scale-up exercises, there is a surge in new possibilities that can all contribute to the success of an innovative packaging solution for the future.

Carol Zweep is senior packaging lead for NSF Canada. Contact her at czweep@nsf.org.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Food in Canada.


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