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Sustainable Food Packaging: Top Trends in Foodservice

Sustainable Food Packaging: Top Trends in Foodservice

In 2021, many foodservice businesses were focused on offering take-out meals as they remained affected by the reality of the pandemic.

As the year ended, new trends that were centered around the way food is packaged emerged.

Prior to the pandemic, green packaging like recyclable or compostable materials were becoming highly popular. Customers were realizing the effects on the environment and demanding more sustainable choices. During the pandemic, this lulled due to greater issues like single service options to reduce cross-contamination and germs spread.

However, nearly 2 years into the pandemic, many customers are once again looking for more earth-friendly packaging.

Not only are more and more people actively seeking out more sustainable options, but many of the regulations and bans that were announced before the pandemic and put on hold are going into effect.

For example, the New York State styrofoam ban went into effect in January of 2022, affecting the foodservice packaging products that businesses in the state can offer their customers.

Offering your customers sustainable packaging and foodservice products will keep them satisfied and coming back while allowing you to remain compliant with regulations as they continue to change.

There are three major sustainability trends that have been growing in popularity recently. Below, we’re going to cover what these changing trends mean for you and what alternatives you may need to look into.

What Are The New Trends In Food Packaging?

Sustainability quickly became the focus of foodservice packaging trends at the end of 2021. The major changes that are emerging will affect how your foodservice business packages and provides food and drinks to your customers.

These trends include:

  1. Single-Use Plastic Bag Alternatives
  2. Recyclable/Compostable Foodservice Containers
  3. Use of Plastic Free Alternatives

1. Single-Use Plastic Bag Alternatives

Plastic Bag in OceanMany states and cities in America have been adopting laws that ban or impose a fee on using and distributing single-use plastic bags to customers.

More than 87% of plastic bags that are used become litter on the streets and in waterways because they aren’t recycled properly. It takes plastics years to decompose and even when they break down, they don’t fully degrade.

To help avoid an increase in plastic bag litter, states and cities across the United States have adopted bans that prohibit businesses from giving their customers plastic bags.

In some states, like New Jersey, businesses can’t sell or provide customers with single-use plastic or paper bags.

For example, the new law, “beginning May 4, 2022… prohibits all Stores (including retail), Food Service Businesses, and Grocery Stores from selling to, or providing their customers with, single-use plastic carryout bags. In addition, Grocery Stores larger than 2,500 square feet may not provide or sell single-use paper carryout bags, and instead may provide or sell only reusable carryout bags.”

Other areas, like Washington State and Philadelphia, prohibit businesses from selling or providing single-use plastic bags, but paper bags are allowed if they meet certain standards.

Because of this, many foodservice facilities are adopting plastic bag alternatives. Plastic bag alternatives can be reused more than once and reduce the likelihood of plastics being disposed of incorrectly.

Some alternatives to single-use plastic bags are paper, nylon, cloth, PET (polyethylene) non-woven fabric, polypropylene fabric, and reusable plastic bags.

In some areas that have banned single-use plastic bags, the alternatives are also required to have stitched handles and be designed for repeated use so that they don’t become part of the litter.

Related:  The Best Alternatives To Single-Use Plastic Bags For Your Business

You can provide your customers with plastic bag alternatives that will keep your business in compliance with local regulations. If your area doesn’t already have a ban or restriction in place, you can still offer plastic bag alternatives to be more sustainable.

If you want to know if plastic bags have been or are being banned in your state/area, use this interactive map to explore bag legislation in your area.

2. Recyclable/Compostable Foodservice Containers

Pactiv Clear-Black 30oz Oblong 2 Compartment ContainerNot only are bans requiring businesses to provide more sustainable products, but consumers are also demanding sustainable packaging for their food.

Sustainable packaging is designed to be disposed of in a way that doesn’t increase the amount of waste in landfills.

Some states and areas have placed bans on polystyrene, also called styrofoam or foam) food service containers because of their negative effects on the environment.

As of the writing of this article, some of the states implementing bans include:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • New Jersey

Not sure if your area has passed a ban on polystyrene? Regulations are constantly changing.  Check out this interactive map to explore the most recent legislation on polystyrene in your state. 

Additionally, California has passed regulations that mandate the use of recyclable, reusable, or compostable containers in any state-owned foodservice business.

Luckily, there are sustainable alternatives that you can provide to your customers that will function similarly to other, less eco-friendly options.

Some of the alternatives you can offer your customers include PLA lined paper, bagasse, molded fiber, mineral-filled polypropylene, aluminum, and polycoated paper.

Learn more about sustainable alternatives here: Top 6 Styrofoam Alternatives (Advantages & Disadvantages)

As you decide which of these products is the most beneficial for your business, you should consider the temperature range, price, and disposal method for each.

The end-of-life disposal for your product should not be overlooked. It is critical to offer your customers products that can be properly disposed of in your area.

Offering your customers a product that can’t be properly disposed of in your area may end up being a solution that isn’t sustainable.

Earthchoice PLA Coated Soup Container-1For example, commercially compostable products may be biodegradable, but they have to be processed in a commercial composting site.

If you provide your customers with commercially compostable containers and they cannot properly compost them, they will be throwing them in the trash instead. This makes it a non-sustainable option and the extra money you spend on these items will be wasted.

When deciding on a sustainable alternative, you want to be sure that your customers can properly dispose of the containers.

Considering offering compostable containers? Use this site finder to find a commercial compost site near you.

Similarly to compostable products, you should be sure that any plastic or aluminum products offered to your customers are accepted by commercial recycling facilities in your area. Not all plastics are widely accepted for recycling.

To find recycling facilities for recyclable food service containers, you can use this site finder. This website allows you to search for facilities that recycle specific types of materials.

3. Use of Plastic Free Alternatives

Did you know that a large percentage of plastics are not recycled after use? In fact, in the last 70 years, only about 9% of the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.

Because of this, the call for plastic-free foodservice alternatives has been growing.

While many states and cities along the coasts have banned the single-use plastics we’ve mentioned, like bags and containers, there are other plastic foodservice items that have come under scrutiny.

Single-Use Plastic Straws

Compostable StrawPlastic straws are commonly provided with takeout or delivery that includes a beverage. Recently, though, plastic straws are falling under local regulation across states that are usually located on the coasts.

In Garfield, NJ single-use plastic straws can only be given by request to a customer with a disability or medical condition.

Similarly, in Portland, Oregon, and Stamford, Connecticut, plastic straws can only be made available to customers upon request.

Plastic straws are convenient, but there are alternatives that your business can provide to customers.

Alternatives to plastic straws include sip cup lids and straws made out of paper, bamboo, PLA, metal, glass, and silicone. There are also plastic straws that are designed to be reused.

You should consider the advantages and disadvantages of adding a sustainable plastic straw alternative to your foodservice business. Remember that if you are providing your customers with a sustainable option, they should have access to the proper disposal method.

Not sure if your area has a ban or regulation on plastic straws? Use this interactive map to check the plastic straw legislation in your area.

Even if your area has not imposed a ban on single-use plastic straws, your business can switch to a more sustainable option to stay ahead of the growing effects that sustainability is having on the foodservice industry.

Related: 8 Alternatives For Plastic Straws: What’s Right For Your Business 

Single-Use Plastic Cutlery

Compostable CutleryPlastic cutlery is a common way for foodservice businesses, like yours, to provide utensils to customers.

Some states and areas have started to impose regulations on how foodservice businesses can provide utensils with their food.

In Los Angeles, California, plastic utensils are available by request only. That means that many customers aren’t receiving single-use plastic cutlery with their take-out orders.

This regulation is designed to reduce the amount of plastic waste that restaurants and other foodservice businesses generate each year.

Similarly, Washington state law restricts how businesses can provide their customers with single-use items, including plastic utensils.

There are some alternatives to plastic utensils that your business can offer to customers.

Sustainable alternatives, like utensils made from CPLA (crystallized polylactic acid), molded fiber, bamboo, and wood can be composted commercially. As we mentioned, you should check that your customers have access to a commercial composting site before offering these items.

Related: Comparing Different Types of Disposable Cutlery

Final Thoughts

Sustainability trends are constantly changing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.

By keeping up with regulations on single-use foodservice items in your area, you can be sure that you are providing your customers with the right products.

Imperial Dade locations have a wide range of sustainable, eco-friendly foodservice products to keep your business compliant and reduce your impact on the environment.

If you’re looking for the best sustainable foodservice packaging alternatives based on your unique business needs or the regulations in your areas, contact a specialist today for a comprehensive review of your foodservice program.

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