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Eco Friendly Packaging Ideas for Food

Eco Friendly Packaging Ideas for Food

Types of Sustainable Food Packaging

With rising environmental degradation and climate change, sustainability has become the key concern of many business ventures, industries and practices. Shift to eco-friendly ways of life is the new norm and that includes the food and packaging industry as well.

When it comes to food, sustainable packaging is about conserving resources and minimising waste and pollution. At the same time, it aims to ensure the safety and quality of the packaged food. To avoid the negative environmental footprint of packaging waste, global focus has shifted to safe and eco-friendly food packaging solutions that also address any potential health implications of poor quality food packaging [e.g. harmful plastics that can contaminate food products].

This article will help you learn about various types of eco-friendly food packaging including biodegradable, compostable and recyclable materials. By the end of it, you’ll also understand why sustainable food packaging has become increasingly important for brands and businesses.

Why is Sustainable Food Packaging important?

Consider the main benefits of opting for sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging for food as threefold:

  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Health

Firstly, sustainable food packaging solutions can reduce the costs linked to packaging waste disposal which can further help businesses with cost savings. Even though the initial cost of switching from traditional packaging to eco-friendly solutions can be high, this may be balanced by the reduction in costs from ease of disposing and recycling food packaging waste. 

Another economic benefit may come from the production of these sustainable food packaging materials, as they are considered less resource intensive than traditional packaging means. They can be more easily available without the time and materials required to produce less sustainable food packaging.

Environmentally, the use of eco-friendly packaging can reduce the carbon footprints of businesses by cutting down on non-renewable material sources and greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to biodegradable, recyclable or compostable materials means less waste will be dumped into landfills. A focus on reusing and repurposing waste materials for packaging helps fuel the circular economy and ensure further waste reduction. 

Plastic has been the most popular form of conventional food packaging. As dangers of the chemicals and toxins produced by plastic packaging come to light, safer alternatives such as plant-based plastics or paper-based packaging are taking centre stage. Exposure to harmful substances may be reduced with a switch to eco-friendly packaging options for both businesses and consumers.

Choosing eco-friendly and sustainable food packaging is also a win-win for a business’s reputation. By embracing environmental and social responsibility, companies develop a positive public image which further helps their credibility and continuity.

4 Eco-Friendly Food Packaging Solutions

Plenty of innovative eco-friendly food packaging options are now available in the market. These sustainable solutions extend beyond traditional grocery packaging, also covering fast food delivery, takeaway, restaurant and frozen food packaging. 

Four types of food packaging make the cut as eco-friendly, based on their environmentally friendly and food-safe properties.

1. Biodegradable Food Packaging

Biodegradable materials can decompose into their natural elements when exposed to certain environmental factors such as heat, water and microorganisms. This means they are often free from harmful toxins released by more synthetic materials which also take several hundred years to fully decompose [e.g. single use plastics]. 

The good thing about biodegradable materials is that they can mimic packaging made from fossil fuels but are created from renewable resources. In food packaging, biodegradable materials include starch, sugarcane, cellulose and wood pulp or paper based products. 

Biopolymers may also be considered biodegradable to some extent, however these bio-based plastics may not be completely beneficial to the environment if they break down into micro-plastics that do not decompose easily.

2. Recyclable Food Packaging

Recyclable food packaging materials are those that can easily be collected, processed and repurposed to create new products or packaging solutions. Instead of creating new materials, recycling existing products helps the circular economy and reduces landfill waste. Popular recyclable materials include glass, paper products, metals and plastics.

When it comes to eco-friendly and recyclable materials for food packaging, paper based packaging is a popular choice. Cardboard boxes and paper bags used by restaurants and food delivery services can be repurposed into other paper products.

Incorporating recyclability into the food packaging industry means making sure the materials used are compatible with recycling facilities and easy to handle in the recycling process. This could also mean using mono-material food packaging that uses a single type of material that is easily recycled and considering recyclable labels and adhesives so the whole packaging can be fit for recycling. 

3. Reusable Food Packaging

Reusable packaging refers to materials that can be used many times before finally needing to be disposed of or recycled. They are considered a more eco-friendly option compared to packaging solutions like single use plastics. Food packaging made with reusable materials extends the life cycle of these packaging options and may also reduce packaging costs for businesses and users compared to those who opt for disposable packaging.

Reusable food packaging is a growing sustainability trend including use of stainless steel boxes, glass bottles and containers, silicone storage bags, cloth bags and durable plastic packaging options.

4. Compostable Food Packaging

Composting combines organic waste such as food waste, garden trimmings and biodegradable materials in a controlled environment that decomposes these organic materials into nutrient-rich soil. Paper, cardboard and other simple organic packaging materials free from chemical coatings are top picks for a compost. They can break down more easily, even in home settings. For certain packaging products however, industrial settings may be needed for composting.  

Food packaging made from cornstarch, mushrooms, bamboo and other organic materials can be an eco-friendly packaging option that can be composted under the right conditions.

Eco Friendly Packaging Materials for Food

Packaging can be eco-friendly or sustainable based on its source, lifecycle and biodegradability. When it comes to environmentally friendly food packaging, there are plenty of innovative packaging solutions available in the market, with each providing unique benefits. Take a look at some creative and popular food packaging materials:

1. Plant Based Food Packaging

Packaging made from renewable plant sources are considered eco-friendly since they lower the carbon footprint and reduce fossil fuel dependency. However, it is important to keep in mind that using plant-derived packaging can only be eco-friendly when tied with sustainable forestation practices to avoid depleting natural resources faster than they can be replenished.

Paper

Paper is widely used in food packaging due to its eco-friendly properties and versatility. Paper and wood pulp products can be considered eco-friendly as they are prepared from renewable sources [trees], are biodegradable and recyclable. Within different paper types, Kraft paper could be considered the most environmentally friendly food packaging option available.

Paper based food packaging can include:

  • Paper bags for packaging groceries, bakery items, takeaway meals and food deliveries
  • Cardboard boxes for packaging dry items, snacks [e.g. pizza] and even frozen foods
  • Wrapping paper for wrapping sandwiches, bread, fruits, vegetables and cheeses.
  • Cartons and containers for packaging juice beverages, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.

Bamboo

Why has Bamboo become popular as a sustainable food packaging option? 

The simple answer: it is the world’s fastest growing plant. 

This makes it a renewable and easily replenishable resource compared to other plant sources.

On top of that, bamboo plants are resistant to drought and can even grow in less favourable environmental conditions. Since they produce 35% more oxygen than trees of the same volume, opting for bamboo based packaging means you’re contributing to a lower carbon footprint. 

As a packaging material, bamboo is considered highly durable and can withstand high temperatures making it great for packaging warm food products. 

Bamboo food packaging can include:

  • Bamboo Fibre Containers for snack and takeaway boxes
  • Bamboo Lids to cover glass jars and other containers

Rice Husk

Rice husk is a byproduct of rice milling, making it a fairly sustainable and abundant material for food packaging. Considered an agricultural waste product, repurposing rice husk for packaging can help minimise any negative environmental impact.

Rice husk can be used to create bioplastics that are biodegradable, food safe and sturdy. They can be great for use as food packaging including:

  • Biodegradable Plates and Bowls
  • Food Containers

Bonus: Rice husk can also be used to create packaging fillers to keep fragile food items safe during delivery.

Mushroom

Mushrooms are emerging as a versatile packaging option given their moldability which comes from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. Given its strong and adhesive nature, it is a viable material for creating food packaging. To give the packaging a final shape and form, mycelium is often mixed with other agricultural waste products.

Mushroom-based or mycelium packaging is both biodegradable and compostable making it an eco-friendly option for packaging food items. They are considered a good alternative to styrofoam, which can take several years to break down.

Mushroom packaging for food can include:

  • Protective packaging for fruits, vegetables and fragile food products
  • Food trays and containers for packaging meat, cheese and other perishable items
  • Insulated packaging for temperature-sensitive foods [e.g. chocolates or cheese]

Bagasse

Agricultural byproducts may be the saving grace of the sustainable packaging industry. 

This also includes bagasse, a waste product of sugarcane processing. It is an environmentally friendly and compostable material. It is considered one of the most eco-friendly food packaging options since it does not require additional resources to be produced and sugarcane is also relatively easy to grow.

Popular use of bagasse in food packaging includes:

  • Containers for takeaways and food deliveries [Lid based and Clamshell Food Containers]
  • Cups and Lids for serving beverages at cafes or events
  • Food Trays for packaging fruits, vegetables, bakery items and meat in supermarkets or grocery stores

2. Edible Food Packaging

Edible food packaging is exactly that: packaging you can consume! 

It utilises biodegradable and compostable materials that are safe to eat along with the food they contain. Edible ingredients used in food packaging include seaweed, starch and plant-based fibre.

There is no doubt edible packaging is an eco-friendly packaging alternative. By simply eating the packaging or letting it decompose naturally, there is little left to waste and that reduces the load on landfills. 

Seaweed wraps for sushi, fruit and vegetable skins for wrapping produce or starch based cups for serving drinks and snacks can all be considered as edible food packaging. Given technical challenges to preserve the packaging, this idea may not be as widespread as other sustainable food packaging options, but still gets points for innovation!

3. Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is considered both durable and eco-friendly. Using stainless steel for food packaging means opting for reusable packaging with a long lifespan. This makes it a great alternative to single-use plastics. 

Another benefit of stainless steel for food packaging is its food safe qualities. It is considered a rust-free and inactive material that does not transfer toxins into food like many plastics do.

Stainless steel in the food packaging industry is often used to produce lunch boxes, storage containers and reusable beverage bottles. These products can be ideal for commercial kitchens, restaurants and even households requiring food storage solutions.

4. Glass Containers

Similar to stainless steel, glass is a popular food packaging choice in both commercial and household environments.

Glass containers are reusable and food safe, making them perfect for food storage and packaging. Opting for glass containers means you don’t have to dispose of them too frequently, reducing waste.

One downside is that glass containers on their own may not be completely leak-free. They are often combined with plastic or bamboo lids and silicone seals to strengthen them and avoid spills.

Popular use of glass in food packaging includes:

  • Glass jars for jams, spreads and sauces
  • Glass bottles for juices, milk and sodas
  • Glass storage containers for pantry staples and food leftovers

Final Word

Now that we’ve explored a range of eco-friendly food packaging options and discussed their benefits, opting for the right packaging for your business is part of your environmental and social responsibility. 

Incorporating sustainable food packaging for your business isn’t only an environmental need, but also will help you develop a positive reputation and brand loyalty. With conscious packaging choices, you too can make a meaningful difference to the environment you operate in.