Food Packaging and Sustainability – The Myth

Packaging and sustainability is an age-old dilemma. Obviously, the increased demand for products with a sustainable edge to their packaging is a big draw for brands that wish to satisfy this demand. However, it's good to ask what actually is sustainable?

Firstly, its good to realise that there are tiers to sustainable packaging:

• Recyclable – the most easily obtainable but there are issues around whether the consumer actually recycles the packaging and whether its infinitely recyclable or only one cycle.

• Industrially Compostable – often coined as just “compostable” a lot of packaging claims to be able to degrade within the confides of a compost bin, however, often this will have to be at an industrial scale to achieve this outcome.

• Home Compostable – this is what many brands hope to achieve, a way in which any consumer can return the packaging to the soil for other uses.

• Biodegradable – a completely biodegradable packaging is the holy grail, however, food brands should be incredibly wary as this does affect product quality and shelf life.

These four tiers of sustainability do look very attractive on paper, however, to some degree the notion of having a sustainable packaging because the packaging is reusable or degradable is a farce. The reason I have come to this conclusion is the fact that many of the ingredients used in a product would be flown in from other countries, whether it's from Morocco, Sri Lanka or New Zealand each component would rack up a hefty carbon footprint on its travels. Similarly, in order to receive the final product in a retail setting or sent to your door will incur some carbon footprint unless individually couriered by someone in a hybrid, or on a bike – highly unlikely and uneconomical.

This being said, the motivations are good ones. We should always champion companies that are looking to be more sustainable for the right reasons. The idea of Carbon Neutral is much more effective than trying to make individual components of a product “sustainable”. Planting a tree or switching the factory to only renewable energy sources, even choosing an electrically powered courier (which are rare and often expensive) are steps in the right direction.

At Opalbond we try to be realistic with a brand's needs. If a sustainable alternative is needed, we will try to source this, but often relaying the information in this blog to them makes them realise that sustainable packaging in itself is almost a marketing ploy to appear sustainable. Greenwashing is not a desirable public viewpoint for any brand.