The movement toward eco-friendly packaging, which was once indicative of progressive consumer packaged goods brands a few years back, has now taken center stage in mainstream baking and snack food companies. In the last decade, as consumer knowledge and concern regarding ocean pollution, low rates of recycling and the use of non-renewable resources in packaging has increased, sustainability has become an important part of many baking and snack processor’s overall brand and image.

Driving this charge toward sustainable packaging are key factors such as consumer brand perception, competitive pressure, environmental advocates, top-down company culture and being good stewards of the planet, according to the Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape report produced by PMMI Business Intelligence, a division of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

To answer this consumer call, brand manufacturers are constantly looking for new and innovative materials to improve packaging sustainability. They seek materials with characteristics such as structural integrity, post-consumer recycled content, lightweight and printable. According to the PMMI report, performance features such as barriers to extend shelf-life, recyclability, the ability to withstand the rigors of transportation and shelf appeal are also crucial.

But sustainability and eco-friendly materials must also be cost-effective and maintain a competitive cost per package, efficient OEE and perform well on packaging lines. These materials must perform at high speeds, adapt to temperature variances, minimize scrap and waste and be easy to seal.

For baking and snack producers, packaging material innovation plays a key role in achieving a sustainable packaging strategy. Manufacturers have a number of options to explore in improving the sustainability of packaging materials. They can replace non-renewable materials with recyclable options, reduce the overall thickness of the material and seek out materials with low environmental footprint. 

As highlighted in the PMMI report, the baking and snack industry is proactively seeking materials that offer the right combination of being fully sustainable, affordable and protective while maintaining shelf aesthetics. Materials need to be sustainable while not sacrificing qualities such as barrier technologies, strength and machinability.

Some of the material advances highlighted in the PMMI report include the increased use of polypropylene. Polypropylene is a versatile material demonstrating reliable barrier properties and is usable in place of polyethylene. Polyethylene is a mono-material structure, meaning it is naturally more recyclable than multi-material composites but often does not provide the required barrier properties.

Polylactic acid or polylactide is a fully biodegradable thermoplastic polymer consisting of renewable materials for direct food contact compliance in both the United States and European Union. Bio-based, biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates, have a wide range of potential applications given their physical properties. Bio-based polyethylene and bio-based PET, as well as biobased polyamides, make up a large portion of the global bioplastics.

Advances in HDPE, polyolefin elastomers and plastomers and specialty coatings have opened the door to replacing traditional nylon or PET films to improve sustainability without compromising barrier protection or rigidity. As technology progresses and more companies invest in sustainable options, recyclable packaging options will continue to increase. Baking and snack food manufacturers can explore the latest options during the new Pack Expo Connects 2020 virtual event scheduled for Nov. 9-13.

As manufacturers and end-users navigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19), the brand new live, web-based Pack Expo Connects 2020, produced by PMMI Media Group, will provide the same opportunities and insights the industry has relied on through the PACK EXPO portfolio of trade shows for more than 60 years. The event will serve as North America's resource for the most advanced packaging technologies across a wide range of industries and will facilitate exhibitor and attendee interaction through live chats, product and equipment demos, as well as engaging educational sessions.