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Gulfood Green 2024

03 Jun 2024

Sustainable Dining: Embracing Transparent and Environmentally Friendly Packaging

Sustainable Dining: Embracing Transparent and Environmentally Friendly Packaging

On 1 June, Dubai banned single use plastic (SUP) bags and plans to do the same for the broader range of SUP items including stirrers, cups, food containers and straws by 1 January 2025. With this transformative legislation in place, we explore the emergence of eco-friendly packaging options and the decline of traditional plastics, with materials like cardboard and sugarcane pulp leading the charge. Dive into our article as we unravel the changing landscape of F&B packaging, driven by increasing environmental awareness and supportive legislation.

According to a recent survey conducted by Specright (a leading provider of specification management software) over 80% of respondents stated that they are more inclined to trust companies that support their sustainability claims with publicly available data. Additionally, a quarter of those surveyed actively monitor government regulations related to sustainability to gain insights into how they impact their preferred brands and products.

This feedback highlights an increasingly discerning consumer base, with a heightened focus on sustainability and a demand for transparent disclosure from companies concerning their products and sustainability endeavours. It also emphasises the emergence of consumer vigilance against 'greenwashing,' as they become more attuned to misleading eco-friendly claims.

Nearly 70% of consumers doubt the accuracy and honesty of companies reporting on sustainability goals, while 40% express discomfort with purchasing products from companies that are not actively pursuing sustainability objectives.

Transparency in food packaging extends beyond the mere visibility of the product. It encompasses clear labelling, knowledge of sourcing, production methods, and ethical considerations. This growing demand for transparency stems from health-conscious consumers aiming to steer clear of chemicals and processed foods, as well as environmentalists concerned about the carbon footprint of their consumption choices.

On the other hand, green packaging entails utilising eco-friendly materials and production processes, such as biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable solutions, to minimise waste and pollution. With heightened public awareness of environmental challenges like plastic pollution and climate change, the appeal of green packaging solutions continues to surge.

Why Not Just Choose Plastics?

Throughout history, plastics such as polyolefins and polyester have stood as the dominant choice for F&B packaging due to their versatile qualities. These materials can be tailored to meet stringent food safety standards, offering either transparency or opacity as required, while also providing resistance to chemicals and heat. Additionally, they exhibit desirable characteristics such as flexibility, lightweightness, and durability.

However, there's a pressing global concern over the detrimental environmental impact of plastics. While plastics have brought about revolutionary advancements in fields like medicine and aerospace, the widespread use of disposable plastic products has overwhelmed the planet's capacity to cope with them.

With a decomposition process spanning up to 1,000 years, plastics contribute to overflowing landfills and massive garbage patches in our oceans, posing a serious threat to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. This pollution not only jeopardises wildlife but also presents health hazards to humans. Alarmingly, studies reveal that food and beverage packaging constitutes a significant portion of the estimated 269,000 tonnes of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Time for an Alternative Take

Fortunately, sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging do exist. As brands worldwide embrace greater environmental consciousness, they are actively exploring options to reduce their reliance on plastics. This includes embracing practices like recycling, reusing materials, and transitioning to alternative packaging solutions.

Corrugated Cardboard: Flexibility is Everything

Corrugated cardboard stands out as a sustainable and eco-friendly packaging material. Crafted from paper sourced from sustainable forests or fully recycled paper, it embodies a commitment to environmental stewardship. Its design incorporates rows of air columns, serving as a protective cushion for packaged items, while internal ridges lend strength and flexibility, mitigating the risk of breakage.

The versatility of corrugated cardboard is truly remarkable. Its various grades can be tailored to suit the specific needs of diverse products, ensuring a perfect fit regardless of size. Moreover, its inherent flexibility allows for effortless folding into different shapes, further enhancing its adaptability.

Furthermore, corrugated cardboard offers ample room for customisation. It can be treated with different coatings, treatments, and adhesives, catering to a wide range of packaging requirements. Remarkably, advancements even allow for the material to be rendered flame-resistant, positioning it as an ideal alternative to traditional plastics.

Sugarcane: Sweet, Even with Heat

Sugarcane, a perennial grass prized for its juice, finds diverse applications ranging from fuel and cosmetics to medicinal purposes and beyond. One of its most sustainable derivatives is sugarcane pulp, commonly referred to as bagasse. After extracting the juice, which is used to produce raw sugar and molasses, the fibrous residue is meticulously collected, dried, and pressed into sturdy boards. These boards are then molded into compostable packaging, offering a remarkable turnaround from harvest to degradation - typically within 180 days.

This process yields a recyclable and renewable material with exceptional heat tolerance, making it an attractive alternative to traditional plastics. It's no surprise that sugarcane pulp is gaining traction as the preferred choice for replacing plastic packaging, especially for large-scale orders.

Plant-based Plastics: Lean and Green

Unlike traditional plastics that rely on finite fossil fuels, plant-based plastics utilise renewable resources, contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a diminished reliance on non-renewable energy sources. Additionally, the production process of plant-based plastics typically consumes less energy and generates fewer carbon emissions compared to their petroleum-derived counterparts.

One such example of innovation at Gulfood 2024 is Palmade, which makes utensils from fallen date palm leaves. To hear more about their journey and their goals, tune in to the Let’s Chew podcast with Palmade co-founder Lamis Al Hashimy.


 

One of the key advantages of plant-based plastics lies in their end-of-life options. Unlike traditional plastics, which often end up in landfills or polluting our oceans for centuries, plant-based plastics can be disposed of in several environmentally friendly ways. They are biodegradable, meaning they can naturally break down into organic matter when composted, contributing valuable nutrients to the soil. Moreover, many plant-based plastics are recyclable, allowing for the regeneration of materials and the reduction of waste.

Edible Packaging: Waste Not

By utilising edible materials derived from sources like seaweed, rice, or even fruit peels, edible packaging offers a unique and eco-friendly alternative to traditional packaging materials. These edible films and coatings are not only biodegradable but also safe for consumption, presenting a seamless transition from packaging to plate.

Beyond its environmental benefits, edible packaging enhances the overall dining experience by engaging consumers in a playful and interactive manner. Whether it's enjoying a sandwich wrapped in edible paper or sipping a beverage from a biodegradable edible cup, consumers are delighted by the novel experience of consuming their packaging along with their food or drink.

Sustainable Packaging Benefits and Challenges

Sustainable packaging offers numerous benefits, foremost among them being the reduction of environmental impact. By utilising renewable or biodegradable materials, sustainable packaging helps conserve natural resources, minimise waste, and decrease carbon emissions.

Additionally, sustainable packaging often fosters consumer trust and loyalty, as environmentally conscious shoppers are increasingly drawn to brands that prioritise eco-friendly practices.

However, sustainable packaging also presents its own set of challenges. One such challenge is the cost, as eco-friendly materials and production processes can sometimes be more expensive than conventional alternatives. Another hurdle is the complexity of supply chains, particularly when sourcing sustainable materials globally. Additionally, ensuring the durability and effectiveness of sustainable packaging while meeting regulatory requirements and maintaining product integrity can be demanding.

Despite these challenges, the growing demand for sustainable packaging underscores its importance in mitigating environmental damage and fostering a more sustainable future. We look forward to showcasing the latest advancements in packaging at Gulfood Green from 24 – 26 September.

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