Environmental Sustainability Executive, Food Drink Ireland, Ibec
Packaging extends shelf life and allows manufacturers to innovate, offering consumers a wide choice of safe products that meet their lifestyle needs. However, it can also have negative environmental impacts.
Plastic packaging, in particular, requires significant resources with negative environmental impacts. The food and drink industry is acutely aware of the volume of packaging it uses and is prioritising the reduction of packaging waste and developing more sustainable solutions. Some of the key challenges the food and drink industry will need to overcome are laid out below.
Reducing plastic waste in food and drink packaging
The overuse of packaging has led to an enormous amount of plastic waste, which is now one of the most critical environmental issues worldwide. The European Union (EU) has launched an ambitious plan for a circular economy and has taken significant measures to reduce the use of plastic packaging.
The food and drink industry accounts for a large proportion of plastic waste. About 40% of Europe’s food is packed in plastics (ING Economics Department, 2019). The sector is working to reduce this by using more recyclable and compostable alternatives.
Improving food safety and hygiene
Food safety is another significant challenge for the food and drink industry. Packaging needs to protect food products from contamination and preserve their freshness and shelf life. Packaging materials, such as plastic, must comply with strict hygiene standards to prevent the risk of contamination. Packaging manufacturers need to ensure that their products meet these standards consistently.
The food and drink industry accounts for a large proportion of plastic waste. About 40% of Europe’s food is packed in plastics.
Using eco-friendly and sustainable packaging
Consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging is growing as EU regulations on the use of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable products are becoming stricter. Businesses need to adapt by using alternative materials such as plant-based or recyclable packaging. These options must also be price-competitive, keeping cost increases at bay.
Assessing design and marketing trends
The packaging of food and drink products plays a significant role in customer choice. In line with changing consumer demands, producers are exploring new packaging designs, materials and printing techniques that elevate their products — without compromising on functionality.
Packaging challenges have become critical for the food and drink industry. Consumer demand and EU policies and regulations on plastics, food safety, waste management and recycling are driving the need for innovative packaging materials and designs that improve efficiency and sustainability. By understanding the challenges, and working together on novel and inclusive solutions, the food and drink industry can meet these demands while ensuring product quality and customer appeal.