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How future food packaging can help solve the people-planet dilemma 

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Source: Shutterstock.

This article is sponsored by Tetra Pak.

The coronavirus pandemic has stress tested the global food supply chain like never before, putting a spotlight on the importance of food safety and availability. Border restrictions, lockdowns and supply chain disruptions have forced the industry and companies such as ours to take extraordinary business continuity measures, to support the uninterrupted supply of safe and healthy food to consumers across the world in these challenging times. 

Looking into the future, the need for food is only going to grow. By 2050 the global population is predicted to reach 9.1 billion, which will require 70 percent more food. 

While food packaging plays a critical role in feeding the world, it also affects the earth’s climate and its limited resources, pointing towards a trade-off between people and the planet. I strongly believe that this should not be the case, and we do not have to choose between protecting our planet’s ecosystem and meeting the human need for food. Food packaging can play a strong role in bringing about this harmony. 

The pandemic has reinforced the fact that our world needs high-performance packaging, with a longer shelf life that increases food access and reduces food waste, supported by ambient distribution to reduce carbon emissions. 

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Recycling is only a part of the solution and is not sufficient by itself. It is important to consider the full life cycle of a package. Source: Getty Images.

Reducing the environmental impact 

To radically improve the environmental footprint, mitigate climate change and protect nature, we must look at the full life cycle of the package. Recycling is only a part of the solution and is not sufficient by itself, given the varying levels of infrastructure across countries and the fact that only a fraction of the materials used is recycled. 

Therefore, what we need to look at is the use of materials and the carbon impact of the package. Comparative studies often show that our carton packages have a lower carbon footprint than alternative packages. That’s because our carton packages are made of about 70 percent paperboard, which comes from responsibly managed forests, which regenerate, taking up carbon dioxide as they grow. 

However, our carton packages also contain thin layers of plastic and aluminum, some of which are thinner than a human hair but play a key role in securing food safety. This is where we see room to go further by using more renewable materials to create the ideal sustainable food package, one that secures food safety and availability while not harming the planet. 

The future food packaging 

Considering various aspects of the value chain, the ideal future food package needs to deliver on five key areas. It must: 

  • Use renewable and recycled materials, so we don’t drain our planet’s resources, and source these responsibly in a way that protects biodiversity and nature. 
  • Be carbon-neutral, allowing for ambient distribution and storage, and reducing the negative impact on climate. 
  • Remain safe and convenient, ensuring that we reduce food waste and giving people everywhere access to quality food.  
  • Be fully recyclable, which means it’s supported by an effective recycling system that keeps materials in use.  
  • Maximize the use of materials with a reduced impact on nature because waste management systems are not optimal and not all materials can be infinitely recycled. 

Leading the way 

With a proven track record and solid sustainability foundation, our carton packages have a strong starting point and possess the full potential to address these requirements. 

We were the first in the industry to receive FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification in 2007 and today, all Tetra Pak carton packages are FSC-certified (the FSC license code for Tetra Pak is FSC C014047). Furthermore, packages made of sugar cane-based plastic are Bonsucro-certified, meaning we only source materials responsibly contributing to the protection of biodiversity and supporting local people.  

We're committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in our own operations and to using 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, with the ambition to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for the entire value chain by 2050.  

We continuously develop sustainable food packages that never compromise food safety and contribute to reducing food waste. Our farm-to-table processing technologies extend the shelf life of food and keep perishable food nutritious, without the need for refrigeration or preservatives. 

Tetra Pak carton packages are made of recyclable materials and are increasingly being recycled through our network of over 170 recyclers, as well as through collaborations with waste management companies. 

We’re working to maximize the use of paper-based content in our packages while reducing the use of aluminum and plastic. We were the first carton packaging company to launch paper straws on beverage cartons in Europe, and we soon will be field testing our first aseptic package using an alternative to the aluminum barrier. 

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

Towards that end, we will continue to make significant investments to develop more sustainable solutions, the way we have done over the last few decades. 

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

Building a sustainable future, together 

Creating this future food package will not be easy and also will not happen overnight. But we remain fully committed towards this goal. After all, it’s an integral part of our brand promise "Protects what’s good" — protecting food, people, planet. 

And we’re not on this journey alone. We will be collaborating with our customers, suppliers 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 and distribution process, 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. 

Learn more here

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