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Sustainable Food Packaging: Eco-Friendly Trends for Food Processing Facilities

One of the biggest trends in meat and poultry packaging today: packaging designed to be more sustainable. Processors, retailers, and consumers all are pushing for eco-friendly packaging that has less impact on the environment across the packaging life cycle.

As a supplier of packaging materials and equipment for food processors, we know sustainability is important to our customers when it comes to their packaging options and design. Supermarket chains and large retailers like Walmart expect food packaging to be innovative, eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable, and so do consumers.

There are a variety of packaging innovations meat and poultry processors can adopt to make this happen, such as:

  • Using high-quality film, bags and netting that performs dependably and reduces rework, which reduces energy needs and scrap
  • Using recyclable materials in place of unrecyclable ones
  • Reducing the amount of packaging waste generated either in processing or in product use
  • Reducing the packaging weight or size
  • Using higher recycled content

Changes like these can help processors reduce their overall carbon footprint through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. They’re also better for both retailers and consumers, who have to deal with the packaging scrap from the products they buy. Suppliers that don’t consider these options can compromise their appeal to retailers like Walmart and a growing number of consumers.

Walmart also has a Recyclability Playbook that suggests changes like eliminating unnecessary packaging, right-sizing packages, and using more recyclable and recycled-content materials. Meat and poultry processors can borrow a page or two from this playbook by following some of these same guidelines.

Right-Sized Packages

When it comes to shrink packaging and thermoforming for meat and poultry products, proper bag and film sizing is a fundamental way for processors to show sustainability.

Using packaging materials that are too wide, too large, too thick or even too small can have negative consequences: Oversized packaging affects unit size and weight, while undersized packaging can affect productivity and yield, and both of those detract from sustainable operations.

Processes not using the ideal width of roll stock, for example, may create excess trim scrap to be recycled or discarded. Using shrink bags that are too large for the product may result in fewer units per case, which translates to reduced units per truckload, and reduced transportation efficiency. And using packaging film or bags with a higher gauge than necessary may increase unit weights.

On the other hand, using roll stock or shrink bags that are too narrow, small, or thin for a particular application can reduce productivity, and possibly lead to excessive rework if packages are not sealing properly. That means increased energy use, more packaging waste, and a larger carbon footprint.

By right-sizing packaging to the product, units can be more compact and lighter in weight, allowing processors to optimize production efficiency, units per case, and transportation efficiency. Right-sizing may also translate to reduced production scrap and less rework, both of which have cumulative effects on the environment.

Increased Recyclability

Specifying plastic packaging materials that are easier to recycle is another tactic for meat and poultry processors. Most packaging films used in the industry are made with multiple layers of different types of polymers, and are difficult if not impossible to recycle. But a promising option is exploring the use of monolayer packaging film made with a single type of polymer. Monolayer packaging is much easier to recycle and can help organizations aiming to increase their use of recyclable packaging materials. One example of this application was recently highlighted in Resource Recycling’s Plastic Recycling Update. A U.K. retailer worked with its suppliers to replace multilayer packaging with monolayer packaging for ground beef, helping the company to meet one of its recycling goals.

Reduced Weight Labeling

Another option for meat and poultry processors is switching from traditional labeling to microthin labels, which can reduce unit weights. In partnership with Outlook Group Printing & Packaging Solutions, Flavorseal can now offer MICROLINER®, ultra-thin film labeling designed to reduce liner waste by as much as 80%. The thinner labels have more labels per roll, meaning fewer roll changes and lower transportation and handling costs.

These are just a few examples of packaging tactics for meat and poultry processors, and there are many more. When you consider that the sustainable packaging market could reach $400 million over the next five years, and that packaging accounts for almost 45% of the world demand for plastic, it’s clear that packaging is more than just protection for products. It’s become a barometer of sustainability. To talk further about your food packaging options, contact us.

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