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Three Sustainability Trends Reshaping The Food Packaging Industry

Updated: Jan 10, 2019

Accelerating demands for sustainable products and responsible corporate behavior are reshaping the food, beverage and restaurant industries – and with them the food packaging industry. Think plastic straws, which no longer stir the drink for a wide range of leading organizations including Starbucks, Hilton and American Airlines.

Consumer expectations are one driver. As early as 2014, a Horizon Media study found 81% of millennials expect companies to make public commitments to good corporate citizenship. And 66% of consumers at large will pay more for products from brands committed to environmentally friendly practices, according to the Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report. So sustainability is good business, too.  

A swelling wave of legislation is also mandating sustainable actions, worldwide. Seattle has been ahead of the curve, going back to its 2009 ban on Styrofoam and 2010 requirement for food service items to be recyclable or compostable, and for restaurants to have composting and recycling bins.

All this public and private sector momentum – highlighted in the three sustainability trends below – is creating openings for innovative food packaging products and thinking.

1. Corporate leaders are embracing sustainable food and beverage packaging

A key food packaging trend in 2018 has been toward recycled and recyclable materials, partly in response to stunning media reports of waste plastic, notably the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (three times the size of France).

Beyond plastics, leading beverage and restaurant brands have answered the call and announced major sustainability-oriented commitments in 2018. The trend-setters include:

These actions have pleased everyday consumers as well as committed environmentalists, and will have trickle-down effects, encouraging other companies to follow.

2. Governments are not only banning plastic, but mandating recycling and reusable materials

California was the trend-setter, finally initiating a ban on plastic bags from major retail stores after the November 2016 elections. Dozens of North American cities have followed suit. In the United States, during the 2017-18 legislative season, more than 70 bills have been introduced in state legislatures regarding plastic bags, encompassing bans, fees and recycling programs.

In Australia, national, state and territory environment ministers have agreed on an admirable target: 100% of Australian packaging is to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.  This is only a few short years away, and a major opportunity for the food packaging industry.

Vancouver, the first major Canadian city to ban plastic straws (effective 2019), has also adopted a ban on the distribution of polystyrene foam cups and containers in that year – so users of food packaging are looking for sustainable solutions, now. Vancouver also adopted restrictions on disposable cups and plastic shopping bags. And the city aims to completely eliminate the disposal of solid waste by 2040. 

The worldwide trend is clear on the legislative front: Less in the way of plastics and single use materials, more in the way of recycling and sustainable food packaging.

3. Innovative and sustainable food packaging is creating new solutions

Innovative recycled and recyclable food packaging materials are emerging as sustainable alternatives to plastics, Styrofoam and other environmentally-unfriendly materials. A few notable examples:

Ecologic paper bottles, made from recycled corrugated cardboard and newspapers, and already popular for products like wine, pet food and protein powders, are now being used by L’Oréal USA in a new line of body-care products called Seed Phytonutrients.TemperPack supplies Plated, one of the leaders in the fast-growing meal kit industry, with insulated packaging made from jute and material recycled from burlap bags. It keeps perishables chilled during shipping, and after use it is compostable.USDA researchers have developed an edible, biodegradable packaging film made of casein — a milk protein — that can be wrapped around food (e.g. meat, bread, and cheese) to prevent spoilage. A sustainable alternative to plastic film!

Sustana is on the side of innovation with our unique food packaging product, EnviroLife, made from recycled fiber. It is the only 100% post-consumer recycled fiber that is FDA-compliant for direct food contact under all conditions of use, allowing food service brands to serve customers with environmentally-friendly paper cups and meal boxes. Post-consumer fiber is inherently sustainable, eliminating the resource utilization and environmental impacts related to forestry (which benefits biodiversity) and to landfilling.

EnviroLife is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC), making it one of many Sustana products which meet the FSC’s strict environmental and social standards.   


Consumers everywhere are increasingly looking to companies and brands to take the lead on environmental issues. And, as outlined above, the broad legislative trend toward bans and restrictions on unsustainable materials is encouraging adoption of sustainable materials and practices.

For the food, beverage and restaurant industries, environmentally-friendly post-consumer recycled products like Sustana’s EnviroLife reduce environmental impact and contribute to the development of a truly sustainable economy, aligned with the above trends.


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