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Many consumers expect food packaging to be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, including today’s food packaging. According to a recent study by Helsinki-based UPM Specialty Papers and Akron, Ohio-based Smithers, consumer expectations for sustainable food packaging are expected to increase over the next 20 years.

UPM Specialty Papers and Smithers have released a white paper entitled “Sustainable Food Packaging 2040” which provides a forecast of what sustainable food packaging could look like in 2040. The companies interviewed more than 200 senior packaging professionals from around the world and around the world. packaging value chains to consider the likelihood and impact of key changes in food packaging.

Below are four key trends. UPM Specialty Paper as well as Smithers highlight in the white paper.

By 2040, consumers will not tolerate a choice between sustainability and convenience – they will expect both.

Over the past two decades, brands and retailers have experienced major upheavals associated with the accelerated transition of channels to e-commerce, as well as growing pressure to become more resilient. As a result, brands will need packaging solutions that provide good end-of-life options without sacrificing convenience and performance.

“E-commerce is such a rapidly growing field that we as brand owners must constantly think about ways to reduce packaging waste for our consumers,” says Grace Kim, Head of Global Packaging R&D at CJ CheilJedang in South Korea, adding that Amazon’s frustration-free packaging is one example of how the company offers a sustainable packaging solution while also improving the consumer experience.

By 2040, sustainable development will be a government mandate.

Sustainability is not only a concern for consumers – governments and non-governmental organizations pay special attention to achieving sustainable development. Survey respondents reported that they expect increased regulatory scrutiny of packaging over the next two decades to improve environmental impact. Some expect to see more expanded producer responsibility initiatives, recycling targets and bans on packaging materials.

CJ CheilJedang’s Kim says there are now mandatory fees for plastic recycling by brand owners in Korea. She says: “We expect many more rules to come in the next couple of years.”

By 2040, recycling, reuse and composting will increase, but about 21% of food packaging will still end up in landfill.

Today, the level of recycling varies from material to material and region to region, but players in the packaging value chain are working together to find ways to increase the recycling rate of packaging materials.

However, respondents expressed concern about the lack of sufficient recycling infrastructure to increase recycling rates.

“Even if consumer behavior changes and we achieve higher levels of recycling, and even if brand owners come up with great technologies, if recyclable packaging is not collected and sorted properly, it will not return to the beginning of the era. life cycle,” says Kim.

Respondents also reported that they were concerned that there would not be sufficient investment to address the recycling problem.

While survey respondents reported that they believe landfill and incineration will remain an option for some packaging materials in 2040, there is optimism that recycling rates will improve, reducing the amount of these materials ending up in landfill. The recycling rates for fiber-based packaging are high. In addition, trends associated with growing government mandates and greater acceptance of food-safe recycled fiber packaging will help increase the recycling of food packaging.

By 2040, fiber-based packaging will be perceived as environmentally friendly packaging.

In 2021, almost half of all packaging materials will be polymer-based, accounting for 40 percent of the global market by value. But as consumer attitudes to plastic rise and some brands look to reduce their use of plastic packaging, survey respondents told UPM Specialty Papers and Smithers they expect fiber-based packaging to grow as a food packaging option.

For fiber-based packaging to become the preferred option, advances in packaging innovation need to be made, such as finding packaging solutions that allow fiber-based packaging to improve barrier performance without sacrificing recyclability, as well as overall strength.

“The role of coatings in enabling fiber-based packaging to be used in a variety of ways will be important, in particular to improve marketability and permeability. However, the coatings should be easily removed during processing and/or composting,” says Alistair Irwin, senior food contact test manager at Smithers, based in the United Kingdom.

Some technologies, such as blockchain and smart packaging, will also enable a more traceable and holistic recycling system for fiber-based packaging.

Full white paper available for download online.

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