What will the food and beverage packaging of the future look like?

In just 60 years, the Earth has experienced a profound population explosion. In that time, its population has more than doubled – almost 8,000 million human beings live today – and the United Nations predicts that in 2050, the figure will reach 9,700 million inhabitants. Massive numbers that bring numerous challenges. One of the most urgent has to do with food.

In less than three decades, there will be a third more bodies to nourish, requiring 70% more food. As is evident, food security will occupy (it already does) a central role. That is why it is essential to move towards packaging that guarantees the quality of beverages and food throughout the distribution process, from its place of origin until it reaches the final consumer. But there is a problem: the more packages are marketed, the more waste is generated in landfills, in the mountains and in the seas. In turn, greenhouse gases are triggered and natural resources are depleted sooner.

Part of the solution goes through recycling. In Spain, eight out of ten households – some 37 million people – state that they separate their waste into separate bins for packaging (the yellow container). Despite the effort, other actions must be considered, such as the commitment to packaging that is made with materials that are more respectful of the environment. Packaging that is committed to raw materials of plant origin and renewable materials from responsibly managed sources, that can be 100% recycled to avoid impact on nature, favor a circular economy and are carbon neutral. The challenge is enormous, although the industry has been immersed in this search for the perfect container for some time now.

As a world leader in the sector, Tetra Pak has opted for innovation to move towards more sustainable cardboard packaging. “We want the packaging of the future to be very light, to use the minimum of materials and to protect what it contains. But we cannot commit to sustainability without taking into account food safety and that is our goal: to achieve sustainable packaging that can house products safely and efficiently”, admits its general manager, Ramiro Ortiz.

Cardboard from responsibly managed forests and plant-based plastic

The company has already set to work to successfully complete this process. To do this, it has a firm commitment to replace materials that come from fossil and finite sources, such as plastic or aluminum -essential to protect food from light and other external agents-, with renewable elements such as cardboard or plastic of origin vegetable. This decision has positive benefits for the environment, as it contributes to reducing carbon emissions and protecting biodiversity and natural ecosystems. In fact, carton packs have a lower carbon footprint throughout their lifecycle compared to other packaging alternatives. This is because they are made with 70% cardboard from trees that regenerate and absorb CO₂ as they grow.

We want the packaging of the future to be very light, to use the minimum of materials and to protect what it contains. But we cannot commit to sustainability without considering food safety. Our goal is to achieve a sustainable packaging that can house the products in the best way

Ramiro Ortiz, CEO of Tetra Pak

But there is more. All the paperboard Tetra Pak uses for its packaging comes from FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) certified forests and other controlled sources. The FSC® seal certifies that the forest from which this component is obtained is managed in such a way as to preserve its biodiversity and benefit the local population and economy. Tetra Pak also uses plant-based polymers from Bonsucro-certified sugarcane, which promotes responsible management of plantations, which, in turn, like trees, absorb CO₂ while they grow.

This point is a priority for the company, committed to the maximum so that 100% of the cardboard it uses comes from forests and other completely sustainable natural sources. In addition, Tetra Pak promotes actions to protect biodiversity in different countries such as the ambitious Aracuria Conservation Program in Brazil. The goal is to restore, by 2030, at least 7,000 hectares of this Atlantic forest, of which today barely 12% of its original area is preserved through the use of native species. This generates positive environmental, economic and social benefits for local communities while protecting the fauna and flora of the region.

Tetra Pak has co-invested €11.5 million in recycling plants to help establish completely new recycling solutions.  The idea is that all the components of a used cardboard container can be reused.
Tetra Pak has co-invested €11.5 million in recycling plants to help establish completely new recycling solutions. The idea is that all the components of a used cardboard container can be reused.

Yet another sign of Tetra Pak’s commitment to increasingly sustainable packaging is the introduction of packages with a screw cap attached to the package after opening. In addition to ensuring the protection of the food at all times, this formula reduces waste and the carbon footprint. This is achieved because the caps are made from vegetable polymers, thus increasing the renewable content of the container.

To this is added, in addition, a new milestone in the journey towards a totally renewable aseptic packaging. Tetra Pak has begun testing a layer based on paper fiber to replace aluminum. This innovative material aims to reduce the carbon footprint while making beverage cartons more attractive to the recycling industry once consumed.

A millionaire investment

At its plant in Châteaubriant (France), the company has invested 100 million euros until the end of this year so that the factory can start producing these caps attached to the container from 2024. In this way, Tetra Pak complies with the European directive of single-use plastics. “It is a commitment that we have throughout the industry: to use less fossil materials and more renewable materials to move towards a circular economy with a low carbon footprint,” says Ramiro Ortiz.

Throughout the process, innovation plays an essential role. Tetra Pak has co-invested €11.5 million in recycling plants to help establish completely new recycling solutions. The idea is that all the components of a used cardboard container can be reused, to transform them into quality materials and goods. Up to 45,000 additional tons of these containers will be processed in these facilities, which translates into more than 50,000 million recycled containers each year.

In addition, over the next five to ten years, Tetra Pak will invest up to €100 million per year to further improve the environmental profile of food and beverage cartons, including research and development of packages made with a of simplified materials and a higher renewable content.

Digitization also opens up a whole world of new opportunities in the sector. The mere fact of enabling a unique code on each container allows very useful information to be collected and traceability of the product from origin to consumer. Packaging thus adopts a new role, quickly becoming channels of information and interaction for producers.

Looking to the future, Tetra Pak has established other commitments, such as using 100% renewable electricity in its operations by 2030, (100% of the electricity it uses in its facilities in Arganda del Rey is already renewable) that the 20% of its packaging worldwide use polymers with renewable or recycled content in 2025 and continue to defend biodiversity through the conservation of forests. Likewise, its managers investigate the creation of new containers with sizes adapted to current needs, to reduce food waste.

#food #beverage #packaging #future

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