From the squash shells of antiquity to the plastic soda bottles of modernity, mankind has created many ways to store food and drink. In 2022, consumers are looking for the most sustainable food containers possible.
The Freedonia Group recently found that the food packaging industry is focusing more on sustainability, largely because consumers are becoming more aware of environmental degradation.
“Consumer interest in sustainability is growing,” said Adam Springer, product sustainability manager at Ahold Delhaize USA. food instituteciting an internal study that shows 43% of consumers believe sustainability is now “extremely important”, compared to 28% of consumers before the pandemic.
Springer also cited research from the Hartman Group that indicates that 67% of consumers say they avoid products packaged in polystyrene or other packaging that they cannot reuse, recycle or compost, and 83% of consumers say they are concerned about the amount of single-use plastic in society. currently uses.
“We believe retailers play an important role in helping customers change their habits and take simple steps to be more sustainable,” Springer said, “by…providing customers with ways to recycle content.”
That said, Ahold Delhaize USA — the parent company of grocery brands like Food Lion and Giant Food — believes the public needs more education about sustainable packaging. For example, Springer noted, if a customer buys a product with compostable packaging but doesn’t compost it and just throws it in a regular trash can, the product still ends up in a landfill and ultimately contributes to the waste. And it still happens too often.
“Sustainable packaging is a complex topic,” Springer said. “There is more consumer education needed in this area to achieve lasting results.”
Colombia University found that in the United States, 66% of paper, 27% of glass and 8% of plastic are recycled. Glass and metal can be reused indefinitely, paper can be used five to seven times, and most plastics can be recycled once or twice.
Freedonia also mentioned that consumers judge the safety of food packaging for sanitary purposes. These health concerns are understandable, given Harvard Health noted that plastic packaging chemicals can leach into food and beverages that humans consume, a complication that has been linked to various health issues.
For the food packaging industry’s sustainability efforts to be effective, Freedonia suggests placing bio-based environmental labels on packaging to inform consumers about which packaging is truly environmentally friendly.
Ahold Delhaize, meanwhile, said companies need to set targets for sustainable packaging to drive accountability. Springer said his employer has committed to using, on average, 25% post-consumer recycled content in its own plastic packaging within 3 years.
To achieve these objectives, Ahold Delhaize has taken several measures, such as:
- Define its current packaging footprint to identify and eliminate unnecessary and problematic packaging as defined by the S. Plastic Pact
- Piloting and scaling reusable packaging models
- Work to incorporate post-consumer recycled content
“We believe there is a tremendous opportunity for sustainable packaging that is essential, maintains or improves the quality and/or shelf life of products, and can be recycled practically and on a large scale, contributing to an economy flyer,” Springer said.
Editor’s note: Additional reports provided by Kelly Beaton of the Food Institute.