UK Study Shows a Fifth of Food Packaging Could Be in Landfills by 2040

(Credi: UPM Specialty Papers)

by | May 17, 2022

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(Credi: UPM Specialty Papers)

A UK study shows that while recycling, reuse and composting of packaging will all increase significantly, a fifth of all food packaging could still find its way to landfill and incineration even in two decades time. Today, food packaging is predominantly plastic and recycling rates are relatively low. While fiber-based packaging is widely recycled in non-food uses, the industry believes that by 2040 fiber-based packaging will approach circularity as technical development broadens, according to a study commissioned by UPM Specialty Papers, a sustainable packaging products manufacturer.

The study, which surveyed 200 global packaging professionals from across the value chain, looked at the key trends that are projected to drive sustainability in the food packaging industry by 2040. The industry anticipates the global share of polymer-based packaging will fall by half over the next two decades in sustainable food packaging applications, while fiber-based materials are projected to contribute to over 40% of all materials in use for food packaging.

“The survey shows the industry is anticipating a $20 billion-dollar shift from polymer-based to fiber-based packaging by 2040,” notes Ciaran Little, Global VP of Business Development at Smithers. “The use of polymer packaging will not be eliminated but will focus on robust applications in which high strength barrier requirements and reusability are critical.”

A number of food companies are working to increase recycling by using fiber-based food packaging. Bumble Bee, for example, is now packaging multipack products in readily recyclable paperboard cartons rather than shrink wrap. The food manufacturer reported that retailers said they would benefit from the new package design because the recyclable package helps them move toward their own sustainability goals, including plastic waste reduction. 

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