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Reducing Food Waste with Sustainable Packaging: How Packaging Plays a Vital Role

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

sustainable food packaging

CPG manufacturers and food companies constantly face a myriad of challenges. Whether trying to improve their brand messaging, advance the sustainability of their packaging, or protect the product or food item from physical damage or spoilage, they must always find the right balance to go to market successfully.

Each year, more than 119 billion pounds of food in the United States is wasted. That equates to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion in food thrown away annually. Shockingly, 40% of all food in America is wasted. (data from Feeding America ) Extending the shelf life of food is a means of reducing the likelihood of food being wasted before being consumed.

Reducing food waste is a critical global challenge, and sustainable food packaging plays a vital role in addressing this issue. Larger brands have shifted their packaging around recyclable materials, renewables, and light-weighting as solutions yielding sustainable benefits while, simultaneously, maintaining cost structures without losing the key function of food or product integrity. Packaging also influences consumer behavior and perception of the brand with messaging on environmental sustainability or health benefits now considered a necessity for consumer acceptance.

CPG Brand Differentiation

Smaller CPG and/or industry start-up companies have more unique challenges to differentiate themselves in the market. These types of brands seek customization and innovation strategies to position their “packaging” to stand out from competitors. For consumers. attractive and informative packaging can increase the visibility and desirability of these food products. Well-designed packaging can also highlight the quality, nutritional value, and unique selling points of the food, encouraging consumers to choose products wisely and minimize food waste.

Both large and small companies must deliver their brand message in display-ready packaging, containing bold graphics and/or unique designs. This customization drives up costs and manufacturing complexity which often results in more waste. Often, these companies lack the technical internal resources to resolve these issues in a timely manner without generating an unacceptable level of scrap or waste across the entire supply chain.

CPG companies can address these issues quickly by collaborating directly with their suppliers and ESG packaging consultants in driving their execution plans. Time to market is critical, so it is essential to have partners with broad industry technical expertise to avoid unnecessary efforts and testing in their final product validation plans.

sustainable packaging


Another important sustainability concept in packaging is circularity which means a product, service, or resource is either renewed or regenerated, rather than wasted. Sustainable packaging materials, such as recyclable plastics, paper, and compostable materials, promote environmentally friendly disposal options. Packaging that can be reused or recycled reduces waste sent to landfills and contributes to a circular economy. A key goal of manufacturers should be zero landfill. This starts with metrics that measure the use of recycled and renewable materials. Other aspects include the avoidance of multi-material dunnage that goes to landfill because it cannot be economically separated. Single-use materials such as corrugated boards are the best choice to avoid landfill. Currently, about 70 percent of cardboard boxes shipped commercially are recovered for recycling.


Leverage Communication Strategies to Drive ESG with Multiple Stakeholders

Perception is reality. If your customers or key internal/external stakeholders are unaware of your Company’s sustainability efforts and environmental benefits, then you are missing a key component to drive your overall brand strategy. Do not underestimate its value and be sure to engage them early and often with a robust, strategic communication plan that evolves as your ESG program grows.

An often-neglected company annual report on sustainability progress is insufficient for a company to communicate its environmental sustainability progress. Companies must provide context, clarity and answer the question “Why should we care to be good corporate citizens” and “How can I help to achieve this goal” in all its communications internally and externally. Audiences include, but are not limited to, employees, leadership teams, consumers, investors, financial community, channel partners and local government affairs. Be creative in multiple channels used to communicate your brand’s story.

Use eco-friendly food packaging as a platform to provide consumers with information and education about the product and sustainability efforts. This will include information on proper storage, handling, and ways to extend shelf life. When marketing your brand to consumers, the use of bold graphics, attractive and informative packaging can increase the visibility and desirability of food or packaged goods products.

eco friendly food packaging for small business

Future Product Packaging Innovations

The CPG industry continues to evolve. Future innovations include intelligent packaging that monitors freshness, temperature, and spoilage, as well as biodegradable and edible packaging solutions. Improved material and packaging design improvements will drive reduced materials usage. Manufacturing technologies and AI will improve efficiency by lowering waste and improving efficiency. While these novel solutions hold promise, smaller and medium manufacturers should focus on proven solutions that look at the entire life cycle of packaging materials, from production to disposal, and prioritize solutions that minimize environmental impact, reduce costs, and promote a more sustainable future. This technology combined with an effective ESG communication strategy will yield the best results.

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