Organic packaging: no time to waste!

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The FAO states that to be sustainable, “agriculture must meet the needs of present and future generations for its products and services while ensuring profitability, environmental health, and social and economic equity.” This is a challenge that the sector is currently facing and in which organic packaging plays a crucial role in overcoming it.

What is packaging in the context of sustainable agriculture, and how important is it?

Packaging protects food from chemical and biological contaminants, preventing them from affecting its quality. In addition, they facilitate their free distribution and help in the task of reducing food waste. However, it is necessary to make them more environmentally friendly to consolidate genuinely sustainable agriculture. Today, consumers are demanding sustainable packaging. As evidenced by a study conducted by DS Smith and Ipsos MORI, 85% of respondents buy products that use as little packaging as possible, and 29% stated that they have stopped buying certain brands because their packaging is not sustainable. Noted that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), for packaging to be considered sustainable, it must:
  • Less use of materials, only the actual packaging is used.
  • Less volume and weight.
  • Less use of plastic.
  • Sustainable life cycle, from manufacturing to transport, subsequent recycling, and resources used.
  • Reusability.
  • Less impact on workers’ health.
  • Materials that do not present a risk to human and animal health.
The widespread use of sustainable packaging, a trend already being promoted by different Ag tech and companies in the sector, would make it possible to leave behind the traditional materials that have caused so much damage to ecosystems throughout history.

What types of packaging are there in the industry, and what problems do they cause to the environment?

Although glass, cardboard, aluminum, and paper are used, most of the materials used in the manufacture of food packaging are petroleum products, with a high presence in the market of polyethylene and polypropylene. Plastic materials characterized by being light, versatile, durable, insulating, resistant, and relatively inexpensive generate a severe environmental impact, especially when they are not reused and are wasted (plastic waste). In fact, during the Plastic Health Summit – a conference organized by the NGO Plastic Soup Foundation – environmentalists and activists presented their findings on the state of the plastic pollution crisis and warned that we only have nine years left to solve it. In early July, a team of international researchers had warned that the planet was already on track to reach the tipping point where plastic pollution leaves irreversible damage. And the only “rational policy response” left was a drastic reduction in plastic emissions. A scenario in which, given the high consumption of food globally, organic packaging -as well as sustainable- is one of the most impactful solutions to reduce the influence of plastic on our planet. Fortunately, different Ag tech and industry companies are already innovating in sustainable packaging materials and technology, increasing the use of renewable ones, and avoiding over-packaging.

Sustainable packaging trends 

Sustainable packaging is beginning to replace traditional packaging. This trend is aligned with more conscious consumers and the commitment of governments and companies from all sectors to achieve a more environmentally friendly food industry. Among the most exciting proposals it is worth mentioning:

1. 100% biodegradable or compostable packaging (organic packaging)

They are derived from soy, corn, or potato starch, renewable sources, and are less polluting than polymers. They are 100% biodegradable and very resistant. An example of this type of packaging is Sav-on Bags, 100% biodegradable and compostable bags, preventing the packaging of that snack or food you bought from generating a negative impact on the environment.

2. Edible packaging

A great example is the packaging made from seaweed by Notpla, a sustainable packaging start-up. Although if the consumer does not like to eat them, they can dispose of them with complete peace of mind because they are 100% biodegradable.

3. Mono-material packaging

Packaging developed with only one type of material, which makes them much easier to recycle than those made with several raw materials. They are usually made of 100% recyclable and compostable paper.

4. Door-to-door recycling

Food companies offer robust reverse logistics to collect packaging, especially plastic, to reduce plastic waste and ensure its reuse. The partnership between food tech Foodpanda Hong Kong and Baguio iRecycle is an excellent example of this. This action aims to reduce the impact of this material on our planet.

What role does the end consumer play in this scenario?

Today, consumers are more aware than a few years ago and are concerned about the environmental impact of the food they eat. As such, sustainability is an important decision factor in the purchasing decision. It will be essential to investigate beyond the carbon footprint of production processes, considering distribution and packaging, analyzing factors such as materials used and their origin to enhance sustainability. In this regard, it is essential to point out that a food tech that uses sustainable packaging sends a positive message to its consumers, improving its brand image. In this sense, there are now natural coatings that allow companies to enhance their sustainability strategies and extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, reducing food waste and increasing the profitability of production.

What role do natural coatings play in this context? 

Fruit coatings help preserve the condition of fruit and other perishable products during the distribution chain, assisting in reducing food waste, especially in international transport. Traditionally, fruit coatings based on synthetic waxes derived from petroleum components have been used. However, continuing to use them in the context of sustainable packaging and a concern for sustainability, in general, does not make sense. Responding to the above, Shel-Life is 100% natural coating positioned as the ideal alternative in the fruit export industry to protect food without harmful elements for human health or the environment. This emulsion, developed by PolyNatural with natural extracts, lipids, and vegetable polymers, protects the product organically, making the fruit export industry more sustainable while helping to prevent the waste of tons of food and thousands of liters of water. With Shel-Life, your company can enhance its sustainability, align with consumer demands and allow you to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, increasing the profitability of production.

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