Published 16 June 2017 by Åsa Nyflött
Despite food and beverage carton packaging comprising mainly of natural fibre-based materials, most packaging on sale today still includes barrier coatings made from fossil-based plastics. With time and scale, “Green” plastic barriers made from biomass have the potential to be a more renewable alternative, which can also reduce the carbon footprint without increasing costs.
Food packaging should ensure food safety and quality, minimise spoilage, and provide a convenient way of storing perishable goods. Barrier coatings are typically used to provide fibre-based food packaging with an oxygen barrier that keeps the packaged food or beverage fresh for longer.
Researching renewable and cost effective alternatives
I completed my Stora Enso-sponsored PhD in February 2017 in the field of barrier coatings. My research involved analysing and comparing the performance of various conventional barrier coating solutions on the food and beverage market, as well as more renewable alternatives – both from an environmental and financial cost perspective. I also conducted theoretical studies and interviewed industry key stakeholders.
My key findings were that more renewable “green” plastic barriers made from biomass can reduce the carbon footprint of the packaging by around 30% – without increasing production costs.
Taking green packaging seriously
Some more environmentally responsible green packaging is already used today in some of the packaging we buy, which shows that certain brands are taking the environmental impacts of their packaging seriously. Such packaging solutions are also increasingly in demand among consumers – although I think brands need to make the labelling of green packaging more prominent and understandable for the consumer.
We also need to raise the relatively low level of awareness of more renewable packaging solutions among consumers. Greater awareness of the environmental benefits of green packaging, combined with clearer and more understandable labelling, could give more responsible brands a competitive advantage in the market – particularly as greener packaging is not necessarily more expensive. Packaging design is also important to ensure consumers can easily get all the food out of the packaging, which can help avoid food waste.
Renewable barriers are the future
Biomass-based packaging plastic barriers is one of several solutions we are currently looking at to reduce environmental impacts. Another recent example includes Stora Enso’s Lahti 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships disposable cups with a compostable Bio coating.
Green barriers pose manufacturing challenges, and they tend to be more moisture sensitive than fossil-based barriers. But I believe we will overcome these issues and we will see more and more renewable packaging coating solutions on the shelves of our stores in the near future.