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Sustainability Back in Focus in the Food Packaging Industry

Posted by Carla Colwell
21st July, 2021

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the food packaging industry has experienced increasing demand. With online shopping rising to new heights, this growth isn’t going away any time soon and according to recent industry consensus, it’s only going to continue.

While the situation spurred unprecedented uptake of automation in food packaging lines, driven in part by rising demand vs. a grounded workforce, the previously high-priority sustainability issues waned. This was in the face of an inevitable pandemic-driven demand increase for single-use plastics and other ‘hot topic’ items.

Now the industry has firmly settled into a ‘new normal’, sustainability is back on the priority list and, as recent studies show, is being led by a younger generation eager to again raise consumer awareness of environmental impact. We take a look at what’s been happening in the packaging industry recently.

Consumer demand for sustainable packaging continues to grow

A recent consumer survey (2021 Global Buying Green Report) asked 15,000 US and European participants for their thoughts surrounding sustainability in packaging. This centred around cost, recycling, environmental awareness and impact.

Interesting takeouts from this include:

•    Under 44s – 83% are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.
•    Under 44s – 23% more inclined to pay additional sums than older generations.
•    67% of all participants consider themselves environmentally aware.
•    67% of all participants thought recyclable packaging important.
•    64% of all participants said packaging with recycled content influenced a buying decision.
•    1 in 3 of those surveyed admitted deprioritising sustainable packaging due to the pandemic.

Recycling – consumer perceptions

•    48% is the perceived recycling actions for metal – in reality this figure is closer to 64%
•    Glass recycling is at 32%, yet perceived as 65% by consumers
•    Plastic recycling is 14%, but perceived as 41%

While these misconceptions are surprising, they demonstrate the need for stepping up efforts by the food packaging industry and other sectors to raise awareness about the importance of recycling and recyclable materials. 

For some time at the start of the pandemic, global recycling was affected. This was less about consumers, however and more about recycling operations, which were effectively forced to close and socially distance the workforce. 

Now, recycling efforts are returning to more ‘normal levels’ and in many places, a significant increase is visible. In the U.S., for example, increases have been seen in cardboard, aluminium cans, glass and plastic bottles. Many industry professionals are attributing this in part to the rise in online shopping and eating and drinking at home. 

Development and innovation in packaging materials

As sustainability awareness grows, we expect to see packaging materials innovation returning to the fore. This can be supported by the significant uptake in food packaging machinery and automation within the industry in just the last 12 months. Some industry professionals believe that the pandemic accelerated the uptake in automatic packaging solutions by five years. 

This may help to bolster the efforts of food products manufacturers to address sustainability within packaging processes across the board, particularly as this previously hot topic seems to be warming up again.

About Jacob White

Jacob White packaging manufactures tailored automatic and semi-automated packaging machines for the food packaging industry and all other sectors. Our machines can be customised to any type of food packaging materials and handle carton board, glass, pouches, plastics and much more. With a worldwide reputation spanning more than 100 years, talk to us for expert advice and high-quality food packaging machines.

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