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It’s Time to Think Differently: Developing the Future Sustainable Package

Summary: Packaging plays a critical role in getting food and beverages safely to consumers, but it can also impact the planet. What if all food and beverage packaging came from plant-based materials and didn’t impact the climate? See what it will take to rethink packaging and address five sustainability challenges.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has disrupted the status quo, accelerated trends and created a new landscape of consumer concerns and needs. This is especially true for the food and beverage industry as the global food supply chain has been stress-tested like never before, putting food safety and availability in the spotlight.

Food safety has quickly moved up the list of consumer priorities and is now seen as a major issue for society by more than two-thirds of respondents in the recent Tetra Pak Index global research report. Consumers believe that improving food safety is not only the responsibility of manufacturers, but it must be their first priority.

At the same time, concern for the environment remains strikingly powerful with more than two-thirds of consumers believing we must change our habits quickly to mitigate further environmental impact. In this context, sustainable packaging remains key and is rated a top expectation by more than half of respondents.

Herein lies the dilemma. While food and beverage packaging plays a critical role in feeding the world, it also impacts earth’s limited resources and the climate. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between protecting our planet and meeting the need for safe food. In fact, packaging can play a strong role in bringing about this harmony.

Expanding the view of sustainability
The dynamics are simple. Consumers want to make sustainable choices to help protect the planet’s future – and they need their packaging to be one such choice. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Sustainability is an ever-evolving and complex topic.

While many consumers equate recycling with sustainability, recycling is only a part of the solution. For example, despite high pressure and growing industry initiatives, only 9% of total plastic is recycled globally today.

To make a real impact, we must look across the value chain and consider many aspects, including carbon emissions, biodiversity, food safety, regulations and much more. In other words, we must consider the full lifecycle impact of the package.

To put this in real terms, consider an example. Comparative studies often show that carton packages like ours have a lower carbon footprint than alternative packages[1] because they are made of about 70% paperboard from responsibly managed forests, which regenerate, absorbing carbon dioxide as they grow. So, while Tetra Pak cartons are recyclable, sourcing of raw materials plays a big part in the overall climate impact of the package.

The future food and beverage packaging
Looking across the value chain, we can identify five main challenges for the ideal future food package that’s good for nature and reduces climate impact:

  1. Raw materials and sourcing – Packaging should be made of renewable or recycled materials so we don’t drain our planet of resources. At the same time, we need to source these resources in a responsible way to protect biodiversity and natural environments.
  2. Production and distribution –Packaging should support carbon-neutral production and distribution to reduce the negative impact on climate.
  3. Food protection and consumption – Packages must be convenient and safe, ensuring a resilient food system where we reduce food waste and secure that food is available to everyone, everywhere.
  4. Recycling – Packaging must be fully recyclable, and we need to help build an integrated system that supports full recycling to keep materials in use.
  5. End-of-life – Materials used in packaging must have a reduced impact on nature, as waste management systems across the world are far from optimal and not all materials can be infinitely recycled.

Only by addressing these challenges can we deliver a sustainable food package that’s good for nature and reduces climate impact. However, accomplishing this ambition and bringing real change requires significant commitments.

Leading the way
At Tetra Pak, we know it’s time to think differently. Although our carton packages are already recyclable and have always used mostly plant-based materials, they also contain thin layers of plastic and aluminium. We’re working to reduce and remove these materials and increase the renewable, paper-based content in our carton packages.

But we won’t stop there. Our ambition is to create the world’s most sustainable food package: a carton made solely from responsibly sourced renewable and recycled materials that is fully recyclable and carbon-neutral, allowing ambient distribution and meeting food safety requirements.

To do so, we will continue making significant investments to develop more sustainable solutions. In fact, we will be investing approximately €100 million per year over the next 5-10 years on sustainable packaging development.

It’s all part of our journey to deliver the ultimate sustainable food package.

Building a sustainable future, together
Creating this future food package won’t be easy—and it won’t happen overnight. But we remain fully committed to this goal. After all, it’s an integral part of our brand promise, ‘Protects what’s good’ – protecting food, people and planet.

And we’re not on this journey alone. We’re collaborating with our customers, suppliers, retailers and other stakeholders across the value chain to take an industry-wide view, not just looking at the environmental impact of our products, but also the production, manufacturing, distribution, and beyond.

Only then can we be a part of building a sustainable future that works for people as well as the planet we all call home.

The challenges of sustainable food packaging – get the full picture

[1] For milk and juice in Europe. Source: ifeu 2020, Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Tetra Pak carton packages and alternative packaging systems for beverages and liquid food on the European market.

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