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Improving or selecting packaging to minimise environmental impact

On a global scale, the food and drink supply chain represents the most significant sector in terms of the volume of packaging used, with an estimated value of around EUR 280 billion of the total EUR 400 billion market. According to Food and Drink Europe, in 2011 over 80 million tonnes of packaging was placed on the market from the EU27 countries with Germany, France, Italy and the UK accounting for nearly 65% of the EU27 total. The European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) reports that over the past twenty years, considerable progress has been achieved in the end-of-life management of packaging, largely through extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes for packaging waste

This best practice describes how food and drink manufacturing companies can improve the design of the packaging they use to minimise their environmental impact throughout the product life cycle. This is possible for example by the use of:

  • eco-design tools to simulate the environmental performance of the packaging during the design,
  • ‘lightweighting’, i.e. packaging with reduced weight but the same protective performance,
  • bulk packaging of ingredients delivered by suppliers to the company,
  • refills, e.g. refillable packaging to be returned to the food and beverage manufacturer,
  • returnable secondary and tertiary packaging,
  • packaging containing recycled material,
  • packaging containing bio plastics provided that the environmental benefits of this choice can be proven.

Additionally, the packaging is key to preserve food products and avoid food waste at consumer level. Innovations such as modified atmosphere packaging and hermetic seals packaging that increases shelf-life of products, identification of optimum portion size of packaging with a view to better cater different lifestyles and households to reduce leftovers, messages for an optimised storage of the food product and colour changing labels to help consumers with use by dates, are some of the methods developed and covered by this best practice.

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