Paper in perspective

Another alternative to multi-layer barrier plastic packaging is paper and fibreboard. These options have become a popular choice for some food processors and retailers because the materials are commonly recycled, which increases their appeal amongst consumers. If companies are looking to make this switch, they should consider that these materials offer little or no gas and moisture barrier properties. This reduces their effectiveness in maintaining food quality and safety and reducing food waste.

It’s also important for companies to think about the brand experience of these alternatives. The barrier of paper and fibreboard is less effective in preventing leaking juices, ripped packaging, and the ability to contain strong aromas. All of these factors can be off-putting for consumers and negatively impact sales. As well as a drop in revenue, it can also quickly lead to higher levels of waste and mean paper and fibreboard food packaging can have a much larger carbon footprint than first anticipated.

High-performance packaging needs to protect both food security and help to properly present the food being sold. Consumers want food that’s safe and looks appetising to eat. To achieve this, paper and board packaging will often be treated with some form of protective coating or lining, which can seem like the ideal solution. It appears to enable companies to satisfy the demand for more recyclable materials, whilst addressing barrier challenges. If food processors and retailers go down this route, they must check what this means for recyclability. In many cases, the coating and lining will need to be separated from the paper or card for it to be recycled. This is not always possible or practical for consumers, risking disruption, and waste caused by non-compatible materials accidentally entering the recycling stream.

Furthermore, companies should also consider how treated paper and card are perceived by consumers. If people make food purchases believing the packaging to be recyclable, when in fact it is not, this can affect trust in a brand. Shoppers are understandably skeptical of being mis-sold to and will quickly alter their purchasing behaviour.

Taking a circular view

Countries around the world are constantly moving more towards circular economies, where resources are maximised, and waste is minimised. Effectively achieving this requires a lifecycle view of processes and supply chains to properly determine how carbon footprints can be reduced. The same holistic view needs to be taken towards food packaging when considering alternatives and should focus on performance that protects food security and extends shelf-life. This will genuinely help to enhance sustainability.