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With Earth Day only a few weeks behind us, it’s important for the restaurant industry to reflect on environmental impact. Where do we produce the most waste, and how can it be reduced? Food packaging, both materials and processes, seems to be at the forefront of this discussion. How can sustainable packaging add value to your business?
Consumer awareness of meal preparation and handling is higher than ever. As a result, the demand for green packaging is growing on a global scale. QSR organizations such as McDonald’s (100% sustainable customer packaging by 2025) and Starbucks (2020 for new paper cup designs) are now placing timeframes on these intitiatives, holding them accountable to customers.
We hear these buzz words on a regular basis: “Going green”, “recyclable”, “sustainable”, “compostable”. So what does it mean to be truly sustainable in the food packaging world?
The Basics of Recycling
Recycling is an essential step towards a sustainable system. It is the process of taking waste materials such as paper, plastic, glass, or metal, and converting it into reusable materials. Uncoated paper-based products are recyclable, because they can be converted into pulp and used to make paper again and again.
Surprisingly, many paper-based products commonly thought to be recyclable are in fact unsuitable for recycling. This is the main issue confronting Starbucks’ coffee cups and other producers of laminated products. Once a paper-based product is laminated, its fibers can no longer be recycled and the product must be retired to a landfill. Most wax papers, aluminum foil, and packaging cannot be recycled for this reason.
In response to public pressure, Starbucks recently announced the launch of their $10 million NextGen Cup Challenge. Learn more about potential solutions and become a part of the #BetterCup movement.
Understanding Compostable vs. Biodegradable
There is a lot of confusion in the industry surrounding the terms biodegradable and compostable. Though they appear to be similar concepts on the surface, there is a significant difference between them when it comes to pursuing sustainability.
Biodegradability is a very broad term for decomposition, and products that claim to be biodegradable are not certified or regulated. Compostability is a far superior claim requiring a rigorous testing and certification process. Compostable products are used in soil and fertilizer, and they leave behind no toxic chemicals as they decompose.
Design Considerations for Modern Food Packaging
The shape and presentation of quick service meals is shifting. Rigid pulp fiber containers instantly signal eco-friendly to consumers, and can be easily configured for a variety of contents. Ovenable, recyclable films and paper lids are now used in place of plastic. Simplicity is often embraced, as is the case with flexible packaging. These sleeves are specially engineered to evenly circulate heat in accelerated cook environments. A one-way barrier is created, releasing moisture and blocking external comtaminants. Flexible designs achieve the natural look customers prefer and are healthy for both consumption and the environment.
Does it Reduce Excess Waste?
Sustainability not only applies to the package itself, but also additional materials used in its handling and preparation. Current designs in the accelerated cook market, for example, may require tray liners, baking paper, disposable gloves, or other excess wrapping. That’s a signifcant amount of waste produced for one sandwich, and also increases the chances of contamination.
Companies understand this issue, and are subsequently realizing the importance of fully contained packaging systems. Products that used to involve multiple steps can now be simply placed in an oven, heated, and then served in the same container; no consumables required.
The demand for sustainable food packaging is driven by the desire to optimize consumer experience and eliminate waste. Restaurant patrons, businesses, and the environment alike benefit from a coordinated effort to go green. Contact Chef Pack to learn more about sustainable, high performance packaging solutions.