13 Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Food Packaging Solutions
Explore Europe’s leading and most innovative brands.
It’s no secret that packaging goes hand in hand with consumption. And when it comes to foods, packaging serves crucial functions including protection, preservation, distribution and advertising. The most common food packaging materials are plastic, glass, aluminium, steel, paper, biodegradables, wood and composites.
Researchers estimate that in more economically developed nations, food packaging accounts for over 66% of total packaging in circulation. Meanwhile, land pollution, water pollution, and air pollution are listed as the biggest negative environmental caused by packaging. While land and water pollution are primarily associated with litter by consumers or lack of adequate disposal methods, air pollution is a direct result of emissions from the manufacturing and transport of packaging. Thus, the sustainability of any given packaging cannot simply be measured questions of biodegradability. All the resources that go into its development, such as the distance its weight must travel or the recyclable nature of its material, should be factored into these equations.
Nevertheless, when it comes to environmental damage, plastic remains one of the biggest perpetrators. Alarming estimates suggest that 50 million tonnes of plastic are used in the EU annually. However, the extent to the harm inflicted by these volumes really only becomes palpable when you recognise that only around 50% of this number is officially collected and, of this 50%, only around 30% is adequately recycled. As for the rest? At best, it’s destined for landfills; at worst it’s discarded in our streets, waters, and forests as waste. No wonder the Great Pacific Garbage patch now measures three times the size of France. Or that new studies are now revealing that every cubic meter of water in the ocean contains an average of 8.3 million pieces of microplastics.
The EU has introduced a series of promising measures in recent years to combat what some might call our ‘packaging pandemic’. The first is the Union-wide ban on single-use plastics, which is set to take effect by 2021. Further efforts include concrete initiatives, such as the Commission’s support of the Circular Plastics Alliance which is working towards increasing plastic recycling in member states to 10 million tones by 2025, and the new Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan.
From plant-based plastic imitators to compostable materials, biomass to edible wrapping, we compiled an overview of some of the most innovative brands that are working to bring more sustainable food packaging solutions to shelves across Europe.
This Austrian corporation prides itself in being one of the world’s leaders in the development and production of plastic packaging solutions, which include systems, bottles, closures, and moulded parts. ALPLA Group is committed to recycling plastics. “Our ultimate goal is resource-efficient production without any loss of water and materials, with the help of renewable energies and with sustainable, recyclable materials in a friendly working environment.” ALPLA’s established customer base includes Werner & Mertz (Frosch) and Arca Food UK’s new ‘Eco Bottle’.
Hailing from Berlin, this sustainable start-up developed an exciting line of natural packaging solutions made from sun-dried areca palm leaves. Arekapak’s 100% natural snack boxes are not only ideal as a POS presentation of fresh fruits and vegetables but can also be used by consumers as plates for picnics. The material is 100% biodegradable and free from chemicals. Arekapak's production requires little water or energy and supports local communities. The packaging is stable, resistant to heat and cold and has a natural, water-repellent surface making it an aesthetic, versatile and sustainable alternative to conventional packaging.
For the past decade, the international team behind Bio Futura has been committed to developing and expanding its range of compostable packaging material and sustainable alternatives to traditional plastic disposable tableware. From takeaway boxes made from sugarcane to 100% recycled aluminium sheets, Bio Futura is proving itself as one of the industry’s leading marketplaces.
Packaging that puts the planet first, packaging that doesn’t cost the earth—guided by these claims, UK and Australia-based makers behind BioPak recently teamed up to develop eco-friendly alternatives to tree-based paper and fossil-fuel based plastic in the food industry. Their exciting line of cups, containers, cups and co. is made from rapidly renewable resources and plastics made from plants.
An experienced industry leader, Ecopack has been manufacturing baking moulds and packaging for the global confectionery industry since it first started as a small production in Turin in 1939. Today, the Italian corporation has expanded its facilities to Brazil, Canada, India, Russia, and Tunisia. Ecopack’s specialisation lies in paper-based packaging, and all products are manufactured using recyclable and biodegradable paper. Ecopack also invests heavily in R&D to guarantee the highest environmental standards in all the materials utilised in its production products, which include novel papers, inks and glues.
The idea for NotPla was born in 2013 when Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier teamed up to co-found Skipping Rocks lab while studying Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. Their first product, Ooho—a 100% natural, biodegradable and edible membrane that encapsulates liquids and is made from seaweed—was a huge success. Using brown seaweed, sustainable algae with a rapid growth rate, allows NotPla - "not plastic" - to disappear naturally within a matter of weeks. Today, the fast-growing team is successfully combating plastic waste with its exciting range of cups, bottles, and sachets.
Another start-up placing its trust in seaweed is Oceanium, a Scotland-based developer of food and nutrition products, and home compostable bio-packaging materials. The social impact business was founded by brand specialist Karen Sofield biochemist Dr Charlie Bavington and is based at the European Marine Science Park in beautiful Oban, Scotland with an office in London. Its product range is currently still in development.
This Finnish brand is a pioneer in the fight against plastic pollution. Founded in 2015 Esa Torniainen, Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski, and Tuomas Mustonen, the trio’s reusable and recyclable alternative material to plastic films Paptic® was first released in 2018. All Paptic® packaging materials are made of renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, raw materials. The material offers a highly printable surface, like that of paper but offers greater durability and flexibility resulting in an innovative, multi-use, sustainable, material to replace plastics. Designed to be compatible with existing machinery, Paptic® is being used to create grocery and foodservice bags, garment bags, gift wrap, packaging for consumer electronics, toys and fashion industries and more.
This German technology scout and product developer specialises in recyclable product development with a focus on compostable solutions for packaging which close the organic cycle. Its innovative film composite is made up of 90% cellulose, 5% water, 4% glycerin and 1% binders and printed with water-based inks. Repaq’s preservative and softener-free product range includes pouches, stick packs, and flow packs a wide mix of and is suitable for food packaging. In October 2019 they won the innovation award at the Anuga Taste Show for the first garden compostable cheese packaging available on the market. As an expansion of their fully garden compostable product line, they are set to release their Doypack this September.
The renewable materials company—Scandi giant Stora Enso is one of the world’s leading providers of renewable packaging, biomaterials, wooden construction, and paper. It develops and produces innovative solutions for a wide range of industries including food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and textiles. Many of Stora Enso’s products are low-carbon alternatives to fossil-based counterparts.
Hailing from Finland, this start-up is committed to accelerating the plastic waste-free future with beautiful and functional materials. The result is an exciting range of microplastic-free and fully biodegradable products, such as straws and jars made from wood and other plant-based materials. Its unique line of mouldable Sulapac® materials allows manufacturers to design packaging that caters exactly to their brand’s needs.
TIPA® was founded in 2010 as an innovative plastic alternative packaging solution that has the same end-of-life as organic matter. Promising the same durability, transparency, sealability, printability, and shelf-life as its fossil-fuel-based counterpart, TIPA® is able to decompose within 180 days. In addition to having claimed numerous awards, the team at TIPA® is proud to call brands and products, such as Waitrose Duchy’s organic bananas and JustBio’s dry foods, its customers.
Vegware’s eco-friendly, food-safe catering disposables are designed to carry hot foods and drinks straight to consumers’ doorsteps. The UK-based foodservice packaging company’s award-winning products include everything from cups and cutlery to salad boxes and sushi trays.
Imagery: (1) Boxed Water via unsplash.com (2) John Cameron via unsplash.com (3) Arekapak (4) Biopak (5) Notpla (6) Repaq (7) Tipa