How to Make Prepared Food Packaging More Sustainable

Sustainability is an increasingly important topic in today’s world. In fact, according to a report by Nielsen, approximately 80% of global consumers feel that companies should help improve the environment. Consumers’ concerns about sustainability have impacted the way people make purchasing decisions—with many willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. As demand has increased for eco-friendly products and packaging, businesses have recognized the need to balance economic growth with environmental responsibility.

In particular, the way society produces, distributes and consumes food significantly impacts the environment. Prepared and pre-packaged foods, such as hot entrées, soups, salads and deli sandwiches, typically require more packaging than home-cooked meals. With convenience meals and deli-prepared foods on the rise, it’s crucial that more sustainable practices are encouraged.

Here are four ways to incorporate “greener” labels and packaging into prepared foods:

1. Use Linerless Labels

Linerless labels are eco-friendly and have been gaining popularity in recent years. Unlike traditional labels that have a release liner, these labels are made without any backing paper or liner, which means they generate significantly less waste than traditional labels. Helping to divert landfill waste with 40% more labels per roll, linerless labels consist of a direct thermal top-coated facestock and pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Typically made from this special adhesive, linerless labels can be applied directly to the product packaging or containers. In fact, the adhesive used on linerless labels is safe for food contact, which is why these sustainable labels are commonly used for packaged foods at grocery stores. While more sustainable than traditionally lined labels, it’s important to note that these labels are not as durable as lined labels and may not be suitable for certain environments or applications where labels must be resistant to moisture, chemicals and/or extreme temperatures. When applied appropriately to the right products, linerless labels are an ideal, safe label solution.

2. Package Food in Biodegradable Clamshells

Designed to break down naturally and decompose over time, biodegradable clamshells are a great option for more sustainable prepared food packaging. Typically made from plant-based materials—such as cornstarch, sugarcane and/or bamboo fiber—biodegradable clamshells are often used to package food products like fruits, vegetables and prepared meals. This packaging is lightweight and durable, offering protection for food products while also reducing the risk of products being damaged or contaminated.

In addition, biodegradable clamshells offer several environmental advantages over traditional plastic clamshells, including the ability to break down quickly and naturally in the environment without leaving behind harmful microplastics, as well as the reduction of waste pollution.

When selecting biodegradable clamshells, it’s important to remember that they’re not all created equally. Some may require specific conditions, such as high temperatures and humidity, to break down properly. On the other hand, some may contain additives that can slow down the decomposition process.

3. Consider Compostable Labels

Another label trend that’s helping to meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable solutions is compostable labels. Making the change to compostable labels is simple since they use conventional printing techniques, which are both cost-effective and efficient. Plus, unlike traditional labels that are made from non-renewable resources like petroleum, compostable labels are typically free from toxic chemicals and do not release harmful pollutants when they decompose—making them a safer option for the environment.

Made from materials that break down into non-toxic, natural elements at a rate consistent with similar organic materials, these labels are another great option for the environmentally conscious. Commonly used on food products that are intended for composting or organic waste disposal, such as fresh produce, herbs and other perishable items, compostable labels can also be used on food packaging and containers if the packaging is compostable.

When selecting compostable labels, be sure to pay attention to the food items they’ll be paired with, as label requirements can differ depending on product consistency. Some compostable labels are also biodegradable and can even be made using FSC® certified wood pulp from responsibly sourced wood fibers—making them an excellent “green” solution.

4. Switch to Recyclable PET Container Labels

Recyclable PET container labels are designed to support polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic recycling. The label stays in place throughout the product’s lifecycle, then it fully separates from the PET surface during the recycling process. These labels are commonly used on PET plastic containers for beverages, food products and personal care items.

Recyclable PET container labels offer several benefits over traditional labels, including:

Environmental sustainability: Recyclable PET container labels can help reduce the environmental impact of labeling, as traditional labels made from non-recyclable materials can be a significant source of waste and pollution.
Cost savings: Using recyclable PET container labels can help reduce costs associated with product labeling and waste disposal. Recycling PET containers and labels can be less expensive than disposing of them in a landfill, and using recyclable labels can also help reduce the cost of purchasing new labels for products.
Improved brand image: Using recyclable PET container labels can help improve a company’s brand image by promoting its commitment to environmental sustainability.

Keep in mind that it’s important to ensure the recyclable PET labels are applied to the containers in a way that does not compromise the integrity of the food product. This may include using a label adhesive that is compatible with the food product and does not contaminate the food in any way.

When eco-friendly labels and packaging materials are properly selected for food and retail packaging, they can positively impact the environment—particularly given the growing popularity among more convenient, high-waste products like prepared and pre-packaged foods.

Want to Use Sustainable Labels for Your Food & Beverage Products?

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