Single use plastics From December 2019

Single-use plastic packaging challenges

With consumers becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of plastics that are discarded irresponsibly, manufacturers are seeking alternative materials. However, there is no clear route or single solution to this significant technical challenge. To implement alternative materials, we must first understand the issues surrounding them.

To help the food and drinks industry address this, we’re currently running a member-funded project that is investigating how to reduce or replace single-use plastics for food and drink. Company visits and feedback from MIGs helped specify the most pressing challenges faced by businesses along the supply chain including packaging manufacturers, food and beverage manufacturers, packers, retailers, waste management companies, and also consumers. Issues ranged from food safety to material availability.

We’ve identified the top three common challenges:

1 Functionality of alternative materials

Concerns over the functionality of alternative materials include meeting the barrier properties (such as the oxygen and moisture transmission rates), general strength of the material, clarity, sealing properties and integrity, and impact of high and low temperature exposure.

Collectively, these factors play a role in preventing spoilage, physically protecting the product from damage, and visibility of the product to consumers, as well as determining the compatibility of the product, process and packaging material. Some of these are likely to be compromised when an alternative material is introduced

2 Cost

Specifically, the cost to manufacture and purchase alternative materials and whether this cost could be passed on to the consumer. Put simply, will consumers be able and/or prepared to pay more for a product if the alternative packaging costs more?

3 Shelf-life and food waste

Extending shelf-life can provide convenience and minimise food waste. When using any new material, shelf-life needs to be re-established. If using an alternative material, the packaging material itself may also need to be tested. Shelf-life of a product may include microbiological testing and quality checks but the same may apply to the material. Packaging functionality and abuse should be included for unexpected scenarios.

Ready meal packaging study

As part of our project, we tested the functionality and properties of alternative ready meal packaging materials (bagasse, paperboard and aluminium) alongside conventional plastic (CPET) in terms of container strength, integrity and barrier properties in different storage environments. Interestingly, drop tests showed that aluminium and paperboard trays performed better than the plastic trays.

We presented the results at our Packaging MIG meeting which provided members with an insight into the potential of these alternative materials

Further case studies will be examined as the project continues. Have any ideas? Tell us what cases you would like us to study and help steer the project towards your needs. This article was adapted from a project blog

Contact: Lynneric Potter
+44(0)1386 842237

About Lynneric Potter

Lynneric Potter is a food packaging specialist within the Department of Food Manufacturing Technologies at Campden BRI where she has worked since 1999. Lynneric’s main activities involve consultancy and testing of packaging materials to ensure they are fit for purpose. Read more...

You may also be interested in