Have you noticed the growing demand for more sustainable packaging solutions within the food industry? It’s evident that sustainability has become a top priority for both consumers and businesses alike, and there are various factors motivating this shift.
For some, recent legislative changes have compelled them to explore sustainable packaging alternatives. Others have been swayed by the heightened consumer demand for packaging that is biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable.
Whatever the reason for this transition, it’s become essential for businesses to understand the array of sustainable food packaging available to them.
Today, we will delve into a detailed examination of some of the most popular sustainable food packaging substrates so that you might gain a better understanding of what is right for your business.
Top 5 Most Sustainable Food Packaging Options
This article will review the following sustainable alternatives from least to most expensive:
- Kraft Paperboard
- PLA Bioplastic
Bagasse Food Packaging
Bagasse is a natural byproduct that is produced abundantly during the extraction of plant juices, primarily from sugarcane, wheat, and silver grass.
This material is renewable, biodegradable, and compostable, making it a good choice for sustainable food packaging.
When to Use Bagasse Food Packaging
Bagasse packaging can be molded into a variety of food packaging containers, including plates, bowls, and clamshell-type containers.
While initial costs for bagasse packaging can be higher than traditional plastic containers, there’s an argument that it’s the more cost-effective choice in the long run due to its durability and versatility.
That being said, it’s worth noting that hot foods and liquids will diminish the container’s strength over long periods of time. This makes it less suitable for extended storage of heated items.
It’s also worth noting that some processing facilities use chemical additives, like PFAS, to enhance bagasse’s durability artificially, and, in some cases, these additives have been shown to leach into hot foods.
Notably, bagasse is microwave-safe, freezer-safe, and oven-safe up to 400°F.
Kraft Paperboard Food Packaging
Kraft paperboard packaging is crafted from post-industrial materials, post-consumer materials, and renewable sources like virgin wood pulp.
When to Use Kraft Paperboard Food Packaging
This versatile material is both recyclable and compostable. It finds application in a wide range of food packaging, from cups and bowls to plates and containers.
Kraft paperboard packaging stands out as an economically attractive option. Not only is it cost-effective compared to traditional plastic packaging, but it also boasts a lighter weight, leading to reduced shipping expenses.
However, kraft paperboard packaging is not without fault. Its primary drawback lies in its limited resistance to grease and water. When exposed to moisture, kraft paperboard packaging loses a significant portion of its strength, making it a poor choice for moist or greasy food products.
To add a little strength and moisture resistance, some kraft paperboard packaging comes with PLA or poly lining.
Kraft paperboard packaging is microwave-safe, freezer-safe, and oven-safe up to 460F.
PLA (Polylactic) Bioplastic Food Packaging
Polylactic acid bioplastic, more commonly known as PLA bioplastic packaging, is a popular option among foodservice providers.
When to Use PLA Bioplastic Food Packaging
This biodegradable, compostable, and entirely bio-sourced material is available in various cold application containers, including salad bowls and deli containers.
PLA bioplastic packaging requires around 60% less energy and generates fewer greenhouse gasses during production compared to conventional plastics, making it sustainable and somewhat cost-effective to produce.
That being said, the market price of PLA bioplastic packaging can be somewhat volatile. As a result, it’s traditionally more expensive than other options on this list.
PLA packaging stands out for being strong despite a more relaxed production process.
However, a limited temperature tolerance makes PLA bioplastic packaging less suitable for hot foods or storage in high-temperature environments. Moreover, it has higher permeability than other plastics, potentially leading to faster food spoilage as moisture and oxygen are able to penetrate it more easily.
PLA bioplastic is freezer-safe. However, it is not microwave-safe or oven-safe.
Seaweed Food Packaging
Seaweed packaging is a relatively recent addition to the sustainable food packaging landscape. It’s biodegradable, compostable, and sourced from a highly renewable resource: kelp. Additionally, seaweed farming doesn’t displace land, unlike many agricultural practices.
When to Use Seaweed Food Packaging
It primarily comes in two forms: seaweed sachets and seaweed film.
Seaweed sachets are often used for condiments, sauces, oils, or spices and can be water-soluble depending on their intended use. Seaweed film, on the other hand, is used for wrapping food products like sandwiches.
Seaweed packaging’s one major setback lies in its costly production. Part of that cost is from the manual labor involved. Scaling up production has also proven to be a challenge, preventing seaweed from becoming a dominant player in sustainable food packaging.
While some seaweed films exhibit poor heat tolerance, others can safely hold warm and greasy foods. Check with the product manufacturer to confirm the product’s temperature tolerance.
Seaweed packaging’s generally inconsistent tolerance to extreme temperatures means that seaweed food packaging shouldn’t be used in microwaves, ovens, or freezers.
At the end of the day, there is no shortage of options for sustainable food packaging. The right option for your business will depend on cost and business needs.
Kraft paperboard packaging offers cost-effectiveness, composting, and recyclability, although it struggles with moisture resistance. Bagasse is versatile, durable, and microwave-safe, making it a compelling choice. PLA bioplastic packaging stands out for its eco-friendliness, but its price and temperature restrictions can be limiting. Seaweed packaging is biodegradable and edible, though its production costs need to stabilize.
If you’re interested in exploring these options further, don’t hesitate to reach out to an Imperial Dade facility near you.
Our experts are committed to providing your business with sustainable and cost-effective food packaging solutions. Call or reach out today to set up a free consultation with one of our food packaging experts!
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