Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging: From Recycling to Supply Chain

by | Nov 29, 2012

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Paper is an important component in many food and beverage packaging containers—and is the base material for everything from boxes, to inserts, to labels. Incorporating recycled content into food and beverage packaging is one way to be “green,” but today, a company’s commitment to green should transcend recycling, and should instead carry all the way through the supply chain to include sustainable and responsible sourcing practices.

A food and beverage company’s packaging is the outward face of its brand, so the packaging must balance functionality, meet FDA standards and be visually appealing to command attention at the point of purchase.

In the old days, recycled paper and packaging elements had visible fiber or brown color which served to “prove” to consumers that the product contained recycled content.  Such recycled fiber packaging had a surface that was not conducive to slick, high- definition photography and graphic printing, and moreover, it may not have met all FDA requirements.  Today, however, new technology and innovations in paper production are giving food and beverage companies more choices than ever before for their packaging options.

To put it simply, packaging that looks “brown” is not always the most “green” choice –and stylized, colorful packaging can be more sustainable than brown- colored packaging for food and beverage companies.  The advent of environmentally-safe bleaching processes and color additives means that now, one cannot judge the recycled content of a package on color alone.


New paper mills in China incorporate production lines designed to adapt to specific customer requirements, and produce outputs that include packaging composed of 35 percent post-consumer waste.  As compared to traditional product manufacturing in North America, where domestic mills only offer products with 10 percent post-consumer waste, Asian mills have built multi-layer machines equipped with the latest technology and the best economies of scale.  Their resulting paper products include a higher use of post-consumer waste, while simultaneously ensuring the packaging appearance is aesthetically pleasing and functional (for frozen dinner containers, pizza boxes and other take out containers).  The result:  brands can enjoy more environmentally-friendly packaging, without compromising their sustainability goals.

It’s worthwhile to mention that unlike almost 80 percent of the packaging market worldwide, North America is still undergoing change and currently uses the highest ratio of virgin fiber per box (or per ton of board) as compared to rest of the world.  Indeed, in addition to the benefits associated with using recyclable fiber, the most modern paper mills offer greater choice when it comes to packaging surface and grade, as well as various options for coated, uncoated, or even FDA-approved packaging.

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