Consumers are living healthier, on-the-go lifestyles, which means they increasingly demand safe, convenient food packaging. But they're not willing to sacrifice sustainability. A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group shows that 74% of consumers said they would pay more for sustainable packaging.
The same survey said that nearly half of consumers shy away from packaging that could harm the environment, and 68% of those consumers associate plastic with ocean pollution. Plastic is often used in food packaging, as it has attributes that make it good at protecting food. But plastic is mostly based on oil, and oil is responsible for one-third of global carbon emissions.
Global packaging emissions are currently greater than those from global aviation or shipping and this contribution is likely to rise. If plastic production continues to grow at its current rate, its annual CO2 emissions could reach 1.34 billion tonnes by 2030.
As an alternative to plastic, aluminium packaging can seem like a less harmful alternative because it has higher reuse rates. But, like plastic, it has a high environmental impact at the start of its life. According to the UK-based non-profit consultancy Carbon Trust, production of primary aluminium cans accounts for about double the greenhouse gases of plastic bottles.
It's clear that we need to rethink food packaging from the ground up. Recycling can help reduce the environmental impact of packaging, but recycling alone can't eliminate this impact.
Paperboard made from wood fibres and plastic made from sugarcane come from plant-based, renewable materials rather than from fossil-based or finite resources. By increasing their usage, we can minimise the need for fossil-based materials. Plant-based renewable materials are also better for the climate. As plants grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. By contrast, fossil-based materials release CO2 that was stored in the ground for millions of years.
When responsibly sourced, plant-based renewable materials can protect biodiversity and our natural ecosystems, including all the plants, animals and people they support. By working with suppliers, NGOs and customers, packaging companies can promote responsible, sustainable material stewardship. Combined with recycling, this move towards responsibly sourced, renewable raw materials can help us achieve the low-carbon circular economy our planet so urgently needs.
 Environmentalleader.com, New Report Finds Overwhelming Majority of Consumers Are Willing to Pay More for Sustainable Packaging
 Clientearth.com, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change: The Facts
 Material Economics, IEA Energy Perspectives, 2017
 Ciel.org, Plastics & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet
 Reuters.com, Plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans: who'll win the global water fight?
 Nature.com, Future scenarios of global plastic waste generation and disposal
 Statista.com, Production of plastics worldwide from 1950 to 2018