The value of packaging produced in Australia is estimated to be $10-10.5 billion, while it is around USD300 billion globally. The food and beverage sector uses almost 65 – 70% of all Australian produced packaging.
It is not difficult to understand the reason for this. As lifestyles across Australian cities become faster and busier, the packaging industry is growing. Busy lifestyles in Australian cities have led to people wanting more ready-to-eat meals on the go, quick, pre-cut, pre-portioned quick cook meals at home or even single serve beverages and quick snacks while they are on the run.
Keeping up with the pace of life and the demand for convenience have been the advancements in food packing technology. Today, there are innovative products that are easy to open, dispense from, reseal and store foods fresh for long.
Innovations in packaging have made food easier to handle, prepare, consume while maintaining the freshness and quality of the original produce. The new materials are lighter in weight and higher performing. Moreover, the food looks great and appeals to the prospective buyer too.
Packaging Materials Used in Australia
Roughly about 35% of the packaging materials used in Australia are paper, board (cartons etc.). Another 30% of the packaging market is plastic which includes PET, PVC, polypropylene and polystyrene. Plastics have rapidly gained share from being only 10% of the market in the early 1960s. Metals such as Aluminium, Steel and other material like glass make up the balance share.
Their Impact on the Environment?
Roughly 60% of these packaging materials are recycled. The balance packaging ends up in landfills where they can take thousands of years to disintegrate completely, releasing toxic harmful gasses in the process.
Did you know that many common packages such as potato chip bags or pizza boxes are not recyclable?
A typical snack chip bag is made up of multiple layers of foil and plastic. They are light-weight, easy to label and occupy less space on the shelves making them the choice of manufacturers and retailers. However, there is no technology available to separate the layers which is required in order to recycle these bags. As a result, they end up occupying expensive landfill real estate for years on end.
A pizza box or other take out containers made of cardboard ought to be recyclable. However, in reality, whenever cheese or food pieces stick to these boxes, they become un-recyclable and head to the landfills.
Australian Packaging Covenant
The environment has been a major concern for the national food packaging industry for several decades. This, coupled with pressures from the consumers, supply chain and the Government led to the launch of the Australian Packaging Covenant (originally the National Packaging Covenant).
This Covenant has been the key instrument for managing the environmental aspects of packaging in Australia since 1999. Currently in its third iteration, it is a voluntary arrangement between stakeholders of the Australian packaging industry and the key players at all forms of Government. In its current iteration, the Covenant aimed to have reached a target of 70% recycling of all packaging materials by June 2015.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian packaging industry this target may not be met given the amount of plastic being imported as Australia’s industry moved offshore. The current covenant has been given an extension of a year till July 2016.
Consumers Leading The Corporates
Consumers have started to care more about sustainability. A web-based survey by The Consumer Network, Inc showed that in the United States, approximately 35% men and 45% women were willing to pay more for recyclable packaging.
It is no wonder then, that many large corporates have been investing millions of dollars to come up with sustainable food packaging innovation. In the early 1970s, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds spent millions of dollars on research. Based on the studies done by the Stanford Research Institute, polystyrene was chosen as the packaging material of choice for McDonalds as it was found to be less polluting as compared to paperboard. In 1993, they started using corrugated micro-flute that not only weighed less, used post-consumer fibre, corn starch adhesive and soy-based inks for its manufacture.
Another large company which has done a lot to further the cause of the use of post-consumer fibres in the food packaging industry is Starbucks. They spent four years with their partners to develop a cup which contained 10% post-consumer fibres. The FDA approved the cup to be in direct contact with food which began to be used in 2006 and has now been adopted by Starbucks in its locations worldwide.
In 2012, Starbucks introduced new hot-sleeves which required fewer raw materials to be made, while increasing the amount of post-consumer content. This new sleeve is currently being used in the United States and Canada. According to the company, the increased use of post-consumer fibre has led to a saving of nearly 100,000 trees.
Renewable Food Packaging Materials in the 21st Century
Today, there are many bio-based food packaging materials. These are materials which have been derived from annually renewable sources.
The twentieth century had seen the rise of the use of petroleum-derived chemicals as packaging material because of their physical and chemical properties such as lightness, strength, and resistance to water and water-based micro-organisms.
The turn of the century saw attention being given to environmental factors such as sustainability and the ability to recycle. Materials from non-renewable sources such as those from petroleum began to be replaced with those from renewable sources, essentially those derived from plants and their by-products.
One such innovation is to make products out of sugar cane fibre or bagasse, which is the pulp material remaining after the extraction of the sugar-bearing juice from sugar cane. Bagasse can be used for making products normally made from plastic or paper. It also helps avoid the pollution caused to the environment by the burning of the sugarcane pulp after juice extraction. What is more, sugar cane is a readily renewable resource. Products made from sugarcane pulp are fully compostable and will usually compost between 30 – 90 days depending upon the composting facility.
Polylactide (PLA) is another plastic like compound made from the fermentation and distillation of dextrose into lactic acid. The dextrose is derived from starch rich plant sources such as corn sugar. PLA behave like a plastic, however, it is made from renewable sources and can be fully composted at a commercial composting facility.
Similarly, corn starch and cellulose based polymers are also being used in the food packaging industry. These too are derived from annually renewable sources and take between 45 – 180 days to compost in optimal composting conditions.
For sustainable packaging solutions, visit Environmental Enterprises. Environmental Enterprises is a supplier of certified, biodegradable/compostable sustainable packaging alternatives to the market place. For product, pricing & ordering contact Wayne on 02 9634 5697/0417 206 755 or visit their website to learn more.
Did you know that using cloth towels instead of using paper towels saves 50% of landfill space from paper wastes? There are continuous towel dispensers that you can install to ensure a hygienic workplace without creating wastes. It can save trees too. Choose the greener option!