sustainable food packaging, food packaging, takeaway packaging, sustainable takeaway packaging, sustainable takeout containers

Why is sustainable food packaging important?

Packaging is an essential component of the food sector and is currently the only solution available to facilitate the transportation of food. That said, food packaging waste is one of the most harmful aspects of the industry. 

Every day, hundreds of millions of single-use food containers, cans, trays, and cutlery are tossed away worldwide. Research indicates that food packaging accounts for 50% of the plastics derived from fossil fuels. More so, food packaging materials are responsible for almost half of all municipal solid waste that ends up in landfills in the US. 

Beyond this, the demand for sustainable packaging materials continues to rise. Therefore, it’s clear the restaurant industry needs to follow the likes of specialty coffee and invest in sustainable food packaging. 

But why exactly is sustainable food packaging so important, and what difference can it make? 

What is sustainable food packaging?

In the takeaway food industry, products need more protection than others. Meals must be protected from any possible contaminants, tampering, and damage from delivery. 

To this end, researchers estimate food packaging accounts for over 66% of all total packaging in circulation. Notably, in 2020, the takeaway food industry in China generated 1.6 million tons of plastic waste. 

Research indicates the takeaway delivery market will have 2.64 billion users four years from now – something restaurants, fast food chains, and delivery firms should take note of. Clearly, with an increase in takeaway deliveries, it is essential for the food industry to consider eco-friendly packaging alternatives. 

Essentially, sustainable food packaging is defined as the ‘use of packaging that reduces environmental impact throughout its lifecycle while maintaining food safety and quality.’ The lifecycle of food packaging includes sourcing materials, manufacturing, distribution, and disposal. 

Disposal is often the most problematic stage as the majority of food packaging is not compostable or recyclable. As a result, it ends up in landfills, where it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. Alternatively, food packaging waste ends up polluting the local environment and waterways. 

Sustainable food packaging is made from materials that are renewable, recyclable, or compostable, which means it contributes to a circular economy. Additionally, it puts less strain on the planet’s resources, and virgin materials are kept out of circulation in favour of reusable ones.

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What types of sustainable food packaging are available?

Several studies indicate consumers have a growing interest in sustainable packaging. As of January 2023, over 80% of consumers are demanding sustainable packaging for their products. By investing in sustainable food packaging and actively marketing themselves as an eco-conscious brand, restaurants can widen their customer market to include those who live an eco-friendly lifestyle. 

Bagasse takeaway containers

Also known as sugarcane containers, bagasse takeout boxes are common in the food industry. The material degrades within 12 weeks and can be mixed with soil. Additionally, as sugarcane bagasse is the main by-product of the cane sugar industry, the containers require very little energy to produce, helping to reduce a restaurant’s carbon footprint.

It also has no smell of its own, meaning it will not affect the odour or flavour of food. More so, it is naturally grease and oil-resistant and can hold liquids. These containers can hold both hot and cold foods, however, once the temperature exceeds 95°C (203°F), the packaging may lose strength. 

Kraft paper and cardboard

Kraft paper is a recyclable material made from wood pulp. Containers made from kraft paper or cardboard are often biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. They are usually made from wood pulp, often from pine and bamboo trees. 

The pulp can come from underdeveloped trees or from the shavings, strips, and edgings discarded by sawmills. This material is mechanically pulped or processed in acid sulfite to produce unbleached kraft paper. This process uses fewer chemicals than conventional paper production and is less harmful to the environment. 

In the food sector, the majority of kraft food containers are unbleached, which makes it easier for consumers to recycle.

Mushroom packaging

Mushroom packaging is made using the vegetative part of mushrooms, which is known as mycelium. This is often used alongside other agricultural byproducts such as corn stalks and hemp hurds, making it compostable.

Mycelium is an innovative packaging material that boasts the same characteristics as polystyrene. It is lightweight, easy to mould, and simple to produce. Notably, mycelium is cost-competitive with polystyrene foam, which means it is commonly used as a replacement for when styrofoam is typically used. 

Mushroom packaging has several advantages, as it is water and flame-resistant. However, while mushroom containers are a high-performing, cost-competitive, and insulating protective packaging solution, they can decompose within a few weeks. 

Bamboo takeaway packaging

Bamboo packaging is made from bamboo pulp. The manufacturing of these packaging materials begins with the harvesting of bamboo plants. The bamboo is cut into smaller chips, while unwanted particles or “sawdust” are removed from the bamboo chips. These chips are then washed and cleaned in preparation for the next step of processing. This includes transferring them to a pulping machine to be converted into bamboo pulp. 

The bamboo pulp is then washed and screened to remove any crude residue, dust, and sand. Some manufacturers choose to bleach the bamboo pulp to increase its whiteness for custom printing and help improve its strength. The pulp is then dried in sheets and prepared for printing. 

Notably, bamboo products have grown immensely in popularity, with the market projected to be worth USD 12.4 billion by 2032. Packaging made from bamboo is environmentally friendly, compostable and helps reduce packaging waste. It is a strong and durable material that can contain hot and cold foods and liquids. 

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Takeaway thoughts

As more food businesses switch to sustainable packaging, the options will become even more diverse. There is already a rising trend towards reusable packaging, as good recycling facilities are widespread worldwide and customers are becoming more aware of the need to reduce waste and recycle.

Switching to sustainable takeaway packaging can help businesses not only reduce their carbon footprint but also appeal to a wider range of eco-conscious consumers.