Industrial analyzers of the ITIS Program, FIRDI:

Huang, Chiu-Hsiang

The global sustainable packaging industry has been more and more focused year by year, according to the latest study of Datamonitor, at present, the intention of purchase of 25% consumers of the world will be impacted by the reduction in the weight of packages, in addition, this group of consumers often purchase products with sustainable packages, especially those in Australia, Franc, UK and Germany, etc.. As an interface for the interaction between products and consumers, packaging may allow the consumers to know about the efforts of the manufacturer in environmental protection. Packaging crosses different stages of the food industrial chain, the investment on sustainable packaging may further consummate the carbon footprint information of the food industry and allow manufacturers in the industrial chain to share the social responsibilities; therefore, its development situation and trend are worth paying attention to.

Global Market of Sustainable Packaging Keeps Expanding

As estimated by Pike, the global market scale of sustainable packaging in 2009 was about US$88 million, and will be grown to US$1,70 billion in 5 years (by 2014), recyclable packages will be the main products on the market (about 90%) and Europe and America will be the major markets (about 70%). However, Global Industry Analysis is in favor of the Asian market and comments that in the next 5 years, the annual compound growth rate of related products will be over 10%, which is mainly because of the rise of the Asian people’s awareness of environmental protection, increase in population, economic growth and governmental measures. At present, the major sustainable packaging manufacturers of the world include Amcor, Bemis, Biopack, Constar, Crown, Earthcycle Packaging, Georgia-Pacific, Huhtamäki Oyj, Innovia Films, MeadWestvaco, NatureWorks and Plantic Technologies, etc. (See Table 1 for details).

Table 1 Major Manufacturers of Sustainable Food Packages

Manufacturer Main Products
Associated Packaging Technologies rPET (recycled PET) trays for refrigerated food
Amcor Biodegradable packaging materials for fresh food, refrigerated food, biscuits and baked food
Bemis Lightweight food packaging film, coffee packages
Biopack Biodegradable food trays
Constar Lightweight glass beverage bottles
Crown Lightweight metal food cans
Earthcycle Packaging Compostable food trays and containers
Georgia-Pacific Recyclable outer paper cartons for food
Huhtamäki Oyj Packages made of recycled food packaging materials
Innovia Films Biodegradable food packaging materials
MeadWestvaco Packages made of recycled food packaging materials
NatureWorks Biodegradable food packaging materials
Plantic Technologies Biodegradable food packaging materials

Source: Coordinated by IT IS program, FIRDI.

Three Orientations for the Development of Sustainable Food Packaging

(1) Biodegradable Packaging Materials are Important Sources of Sustainable Packaging

The present development orientations of sustainable packaging of the food industry can be summarized into the management of sources of packaging materials, reduction of packaging weight and improvement of the recovery rate of packaging, etc.  As major sources of sustainable packaging, biodegradable packaging materials are mainly produced by utilizing natural high-molecule compounds (starch, for instance), microbe fermentation and chemical synthesis, and their degrading performance, mechanical strength and permeability are featured focused by downstream food manufacturers for application of organic vegetables and fruits. And according to a survey by European Bioplastics Association, the global productivity of biodegradable packaging materials is 1.5 million tons/year, the annual market demand is about 300,000 tons at present, and the producer are mainly biotech-related companies, such as Power Source & Associates, WEI MON, GRACE BIOTECH and DANHAI, etc. At present, biodegradable packaging materials are used in the food industry and the application scope can only be expanded by improving problems like hardness and moisture absorption etc..

(2) Lightweight Packaging is a Win-win Strategy for Both Environmental Protection and Production Cost

According to the latest study of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the weight of 16.9-ounce water container has been reduced by about 32.6% over that in 8 years before, which helps to achieve the goal of reducing raw material consumption, production energy and transport cost. Lightweight packages of the world are centralized in beverage containers, whose R&D focuses on the ingredients of packaging material, bottle shape and surface treatment of containers, etc. so as to strengthen the surface structure of lightweight containers, for instance, the Narrow Neck Press and Blow (NNPB) technology of the German company Obedand and Flex technology of Sidel, etc.. However, the development of lightweight packaging will be subject to problems like uniformity of container structure, changes in functionality of container after surface treatment or spraying, therefore, some producers have started to consider whether the pursuit of extremely lightweight packages is meaningful and to think of returning to the fundamental function of packages to protect products.

(3) Package Recycling Requires Standard Labeling System

Due to the lack of considerable and uniform criteria and regulations for package recycling, package water treatment companies fail to effectively distinguish recyclable packages from ordinary ones, which is an important issue during the course of recycling; according to a study of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), 80% American manufacturers need standardized package labeling system to facilitate them be identify recyclable packaging materials. Color code or hi-resolution labeling is a main way to label sustainable packages, which can not only assist the operators to distinguish the packages so as to improve the rate of recovery of packages, but also improve the processing of the reuse of recycled packages so as to improve the cost benefit of production. As for plastic packages in Taiwan, for instance, PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles can be recycled and made into egg cartons and padding, Yakult PS (Polystyrene) can be made into camera shell and hangers, various recycled packaging materials have specific applications, therefore, clear labeling can facilitate the subsequent processes.

Effective Communication and Improvement in Applied Technologies should be the Emphasis of Taiwanese Manufacturers

According to the statistics of the Environmental Protection Administration, Executive Yuan, Taiwan recycled 180, tons of waste plastic packages in, reducing the cost for waste treatment by NT$360 million, creating the recycled value of NT$4.5 billion; the utilization of 1 ton of recycled PET bottles can reduce the CO2 emission by 54.6%. However, Taiwan’s food packaging industry has still no clear consent on the definition and role of sustainable packaging, in the meanwhile, communication with non-governmental organizations and consumers should be reinforced to make the consumers understand the value of sustainable packaging and its efforts for reducing the impact on the environment. In addition, the utilization of sustainable packaging materials by food operators is still low at present, besides issues like color, water content, hardness, uniformity, thermal resistance and additive treatment which must be overcome, the cost of biodegradable packaging materials, which is often 2-3 times that of traditional plastic materials notwithstanding the reduction in treatment cost by 7% over the latter, is also a problem, therefore, how o reduce the production cost is also a key factor to be considered.