News & Updates Sustainability

The Brief: Getting to grips with seaweed in packaging

In the latest edition of the Brief, we cover everything we know about seaweed-based packaging so far – how it works, where its sustainability claims come from, what designs are currently on the market, and the developments to look out for in the future.

This article is part of Packaging Europe’s membership tier – a brand-new series of briefings and in-depth reports on the most important packaging stories, plus recordings of all the industry-leading discussions from our 2023 Sustainable Packaging Summit. To become a member and access more content like this, click here.

What is seaweed packaging?

Seaweed grows naturally in both the sea and freshwater without requiring any additional substances to grow. When grown sustainably, it is expected to contribute towards the reduction of fossil-based plastics through the production of thermoplastic monomer PLA, to name one example; its vitamin, mineral, and fibre contents are also thought to make it compatible with edible packaging applications.

As they are a source of polysaccharides, seaweeds are anticipated to serve as a raw material or active agent – perhaps a better and more sustainable solution than their chemical alternatives. Due to their natural antioxidant properties, scientists say that polysaccharides can also minimise lipid oxidation and increase the shelf life and nutritional value of packaged food.

Three main types of seaweed exist – red, brown, and green. Scientifically speaking, these pigmentations fall under the respective categories of rhodophytes, ochrophytes, and chlorophytes. Red seaweeds contain sulphated galactans that are largely applied to biopolymers for food industrial applications – also containing gelling, emulsifying, and thickening properties that apparently make them useful in food and medical applications.

Meanwhile, polysaccharides derived from brown seaweed are thought to influence the properties of film packaging and join compounds like citric acid and enzymes in the production of active packaging – a process that, according to research, has the potential to be sustainable. When applied to packaging, they are said to increase hydrophilicity, or solubility in water, as well as enhance its mechanical properties such as tensile strength and elongation at break.

Various scientific studies have examined the specific qualities exhibited by seaweed-based packaging; a blend film made with chitosan and kappa-carrageenan apparently produces flexible packaging with a smooth finish, high tensile strength, and improved water resistance. In particular, the kappa-carrageenan cuts down the water vapour permeability, water solubility, and elongation at break. The addition of the organosulfur compound allyl isothiocyanate also improves the gas barrier and coating properties.

Specific types of seaweed, such as Himanthalia elongata – more commonly known as thongweed, sea thong, or sea spaghetti – inhibit the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. This means that their cell walls respectively retain and do not retain the crystal violet stain used in the Gram staining method for bacterial differentiation, and because of this, the thongweed could be used as antimicrobial packaging.

But why seaweed?

Other sectors are already producing seaweed waste; for instance, the food industry adheres to strict quality standards that result in inedible seaweed falling by the wayside. If this re-enters the natural environment, it could have a detrimental effect on marine life.

This is because the rising demand for seaweed is stimulating its cultivation. According to Data Bridge Market Research, “the increasing shelf life of products in the absence of additional logistical support is a major factor driving growth in the global seaweed-based packaging market during the forecast period [2022-2029]”, as well as the increasing concern for sustainable packaging solutions, changing legislation and government policies, and “the establishment of a base for raw materials such as plant-based sources”.

The ability to process seaweed into various forms is anticipated to be another reason behind its market growth, yet Data Bridge Market Research warns that market progress has been slowed due to a temporary lull in production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as the apparent superiority of plastic alternatives in terms of tensile strength. Nevertheless, the organisation anticipates that seaweed-based packaging will reach a market value of US$613.42 million by 2029, and DS Smith places the European figure at €9.4 billion by 2030.

Sustainability is also a driving factor. Material innovation company Kelpi explains that seaweed does not require arable land, fertilisers, or fresh water to grow, and is carbon-absorbent. In theory, this results in a renewable, sustainable, and carbon-negative process that deacidifies and deoxygenates the ocean, saves valuable resources, and provides a source of carbohydrates for the production of biomaterials.

“If we cultivated seaweed across just 9% of the world’s oceans, we could remove 53 billion tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere,” claims Vincent Doumeizel in his book La Revolution des Algues. “That’s more carbon sequestered than is currently being emitted.”

An impact report by Notpla has suggested that its own seaweed-based packaging designs have saved 2.83 million single-use plastics from leaking into the environment; furthermore, that its products have displaced 4.4t of plastic in 2022, and that 19 tonnes of CO2 equivalent were avoided by sales of Notpla coating last year. It also conducted an LCA that claims a 70% impact reduction in comparison with traditional paper packaging; an 88% and 72% cut in CO2 equivalent compared to paper and a Heinz ketchup sachet, respectively; and an 88% difference in land impact compared to PLA lining.

Nor is widespread seaweed cultivation thought to take up much space. If Seaweed for Europe’s prediction that European seaweed farming will utilize anywhere between 2.8 million and 8.3 million tonnes of fresh seaweed across various sectors is correct, Notpla calculates that this would require a cultivation capacity of between 7,700 and 26,300 hectares – at maximum, this would fit into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 404,790 times.

That being said, FutureBridge and PKG Branding make similar observations about the price of seaweed packaging. Currently, it costs more than plastic due to the necessity of manual processing. An increase in price could serve as a disincentive for companies to make the transition – or, for smaller organisations with less expendable income, it could become a complete roadblock.

Undecided also attributes the expense to the fact that the scaling-up of seaweed materials is still in progress. In most cases, it remains at pilot scale. For many companies, the chance to switch will not be immediate, but as trials, prototypes, and technological developments continue to emerge, it is not unthinkable that possibilities will arise in the near future.

So, who should we look out for?

Data Bridge Market Research’s report points to such European organisations as Notpla, Tomorrow Machine SE, and Mantrose UK as major players in seaweed-based packaging.

Back in 2014, Tomorrow Machine collaborated withthe start-up Infarm to develop an indoor farming system called Microgarden. Serving as a miniature greenhouse that can be folded and unfolded at will, the solution claims to be made of reusable plastic and uses a seaweed-based, clear agar-agar gel as a growing medium from which plants can absorb moisture – apparently meaning that growers will never need to water their plants.

Around this time, Notpla was founded, with the brand solidifying itself in 2019. Currently, its 30% paperboard material takes unspecified by-products of other seaweed-based production and optimizes their paper properties, adding them to a blend of pulp. The entire process is said to be free of synthetic additives that can impact the product’s biodegradability, like sizing agents and stabilizers – the production process is reportedly completed without utilizing chemical processing, and by extension, the paperboard claims to biodegrade in home compost environments in the span of six weeks.

Notpla’s grease- and water-resistant packaging formats with a plastic-free barrier made of seaweed have been adopted by Just Eat’s webshops in the UK, Austria, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. The packaging was also distributed at the Women’s Euro final at Wembley Stadium; the Women’s Champions League Final in Turin; the Men’s Europa League final in Seville; and the Erste Bank Open ATP 500 tennis tournament in Vienna. Its Ooho edible bubble was also used by Lucozade Sport at its sporting events in 2018.

Since then, Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging has become the first material recognized as “plastic-free” by the Dutch Government in line with the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.

FlexSea was nominated as a finalist in the pre-commercialized climate category of the Sustainability Awards 2022. Rather than producing its own materials in-house,it relies on red seaweed, which has apparently been cultivated at scale for over half a century – as opposed to brown seaweed, which is sourced from wildly harvested kelp or beached and partially decomposed sargassum – to produce a flexible bioplastic. Once again, the product claims to be home-compostable and biodegrade within eight to twelve weeks, even stating that it is natural enough to be edible.

In the same year, cleantech start-up Sway’s seaweed-based solution to replace petroleum plastics was selected as a finalist for a TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize – an award it would later go on to win alongside Notpla and Zerocircle. It describes its packaging as ‘rapidly compostable’ in both home and industrial environments, with the materials hoped to enrich the soil and counteract the environmental harm caused by conventional plastics.

Currently focusing on flexible, thin-film packaging, Sway applies its material to pouches, polybags, and product windows for food, clothing, and homecare products. It is certified at 100% biobased; colour, texture, and transparency customizable; and offers heat sealability and low permeability to air and oil.

As recently as 2023, Kelpi has received over £3 million in funding to contribute towards seaweed-based biomaterial coatings for recyclable and home-compostable food, drink, and cosmetic packaging.

So, too, is Go Do Good Studio commercializing a ‘plastic-free’ flexible material made from seaweed collected from India’s coastal regions. This solution also claims to biodegrade completely within eight weeks, offering an oil- and water-resistant, food-grade, and home-compostable material for the production of cling films, edible films, and transparent pouches.

Sourcing its seaweed from the Indian coast, the company aims to keep the supply chain short, support local fisher communities – a large portion of whom live below the poverty line – and tackle the 11 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste reportedly generated in the country every year.

Innovation is not limited to seaweed-dominant products, however. Seaweed cannot yet and does not intend to replace plastic in every single context, but serves as an alternative for certain applications, as in the internal coating of SUPA’s ‘plastic free’ eco-mate paper bottle. To prevent water damage, the coating consists of seaweed and natural plant latex, with biodegradable accelerators expected to drive its natural breakdown at end of life.

DS Smith previously trialled a production process for such natural materials as seaweed, following its research into how seaweed fibres can be implemented into paper and packaging products as an alternative fibre source to wood.

What comes next for seaweed packaging?

Seaweed is expected by Seaweed for Europe to result in a 5.4 million tonne reduction of CO2 and spare eutrophied European coastal waters from thousands of tonnes of nitrogen and phosphorus, protect coasts from erosion, and preserve biodiversity. The European seaweed industry could potentially generate around 150,000 jobs by 2030.

Adrien Vincent, programme director at Seaweed for Europe, stated: “It is important to distinguish harvesting of wild seaweed and seaweed farming. The former consists of harvesting seaweed from natural underwater forests and doing so in a way that allows for the resource to regrow naturally. Today, 99% of European seaweed production is harvested from the wild, but this part of the industry has been plateauing for the past decade.”

Therefore, he encourages the growth of seaweed ‘spores’ on underwater ropes and nets in a hatchery. He believes that this can be achieved on an even greater scale than is currently available – not only on coastlines but, as research and pilots are beginning to suggest, on large-scale seaweed farms offshore, possibly even integrating with windfarms. Industrial-scale biorefineries could contribute to an increased production of biopolymers, for example.

Oceanium is already on its way towards this vision with its ‘green and clean’ biorefinery technology. Sourcing seaweed from a network of farmers, its biorefining facility apparently takes advantage of the whole plant to produce nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals, protein and fibre, and seaweed-based materials for bio-packaging.

B’Zeos has a similar, reportedly ‘green’ process of cultivating seaweed, then compounding materials and manufacturing packaging that claims to be home-compostable, recyclable, and even edible. The company is currently working towards the production of flexible film and paper coating. Late last year, it received €1.2k in Eurostars funding from the Eureka Network to develop its SeaweedPack R&D project in collaboration with its partner Moses Productos.

FlexSea’s seaweed-based, 3D-printable pellet for use in the prototyping of home-compostable materials is currently in its pre-commercialized stages. Made from red seaweed polysaccharides and a small amount of bio-based additives, it aims to outperform its home-compostable competitor, PHA/B, with its low processing temperatures and less demanding production process in terms of land, water, and chemicals.

FlexSea claims that the pellet is compatible with 3D printing nozzles instead of filaments, a solution thought to lower cost and energy consumption and preserve the integrity of polymer chains by negating the need to reprocess the material into filament form. Tests are currently being carried out regarding food contact and food migration accreditation alongside the highest compostability and ecotoxicity standards, the company says.

Sway adds that further progress in the seaweed space depends on researchers answering remaining questions about the ecological benefits and implications surrounding its use. These should inform the development of seaweed farms and the introduction of ecologically driven regulation. Also, stakeholders across the value chain, from farmers and product innovators to conservation organizations and policymakers, should discuss, debate, and establish a shared vision for the sustainable development of a seaweed industry.

Undoubtedly, there is still more to come where seaweed is concerned. Although it is a relatively new development in the packaging space, this solution theoretically ticks several boxes on the revised Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’s agenda and claims to meet the varying needs of manufacturers across the industry. As it scales up further and releases more thorough sustainability credentials, this is certainly a new material to watch out for.



Breakthrough’ in polypropylene recycling could boost plastic packaging circularity

A significant hurdle standing in the way of increasing the use of recycled plastics in food packaging is the risk of potential residues causing non-compliance with food safety standards. Professor Edward Kosior and Paul Marshall of Nextek and NEXTLOOPP claim to have found an innovative solution to this issue, which they outline in our latest comment article.

According to a report by Eunomia, focused on improving the circularity of plastic packaging, undertaken on behalf of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), the lack of common recyclate specifications or consensus in the European market is impeding progress in achieving circularity goals.

The report claims that despite several scientific and EU publications emphasising the need for high-quality recyclate, not to mention existing standards such as the EN standards, the definition of quality recyclates remains unclear, and a framework to implement such quality in the recycling process is lacking.

As a consequence, the European plastics industry is still unable to reach its recycling targets due to insufficient volumes of recycled plastic that fully meet the required quality for all key packaging applications.

If we drill down to one of the most prolific polymers in circulation for both food and non-food applications, Polypropylene (PP), there is no recycled PP authorised for use for direct food contact other than those originating from recycling schemes that must use material from a closed loop system.

This measure, which prevents the inadvertent inclusion of substances that might be introduced by consumers or the goods it contains, has limited recycled PP to secondary or tertiary food packaging articles such as crates, pallets, and totes.

End markets for PP include food packaging, sweet and snack wrappers, hinged caps, and microwave containers, in fact of the PP that is used for packaging, 70% is used for injection moulded pots, tubs & trays. Yet recycled post-consumer plastic from rigid packaging meets only 3% of the demand for PP.

It goes without saying that this is insufficient to meet future targets such as those proposed by PPWR that specify that by 2030 the European Union must include at least 10% recycled content for all packaging, increasing to 50% by 2040.

As such there is a pressing need to recycle post-consumer PP packaging into a suitable material for primary food contact packaging, and understand the sorting and decontamination requirements needed to achieve this.

Given that roughly 20% of the world’s virgin plastic production is PP, boosting the production of food-grade rPP makes both economic and environmental sense.

Mechanically recycling PP also means closing the loop on a valuable material that would be wasted if diverted to other end-of-life solutions with higher carbon footprints, such as waste-to-energy or chemical recycling.

Overcoming the contamination hurdle

Achieving high-quality recycled food-grade PP resin requires eliminating all contaminants from post-consumer waste that could be harmful to human health. It must also be proven that the recycled material does not change the food composition, taste, or odour in an unacceptable way.

Until recently, this was not possible, hence the reliance on virgin plastics for food packaging. Now we have powerful new technologies to not only sort post-consumer packaging, but also effectively eliminate potential residues in the recycled plastics which would cause non-compliance with food safety standards.

Restricting the feedstock to only accept post-consumer PP will ensure many potential contaminants are deliberately excluded. This is reflected in the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, stating that all of the feedstock for recycling come from food-grade resins that were previously used for food and that no non-food items are to be intentionally added.

As it stands, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and plastic recycling facilities (PRF) are only sorting materials by polymer type and colour. Sorting of food-grade materials from non-food-grade materials is only being performed by hand, and is an expensive, labour-intensive and time-consuming process.

Harnessing advanced sorting and decontamination frontiers

New technologies have been developed, however, to sort an extended range of categories by machine-based systems. These include the use of fluorescent markers, digital watermarks and artificial intelligence to sort by shape.

Nextek’s patented fluorescent tracking system, PolyPPrism is a simple but highly effective technology that makes use of luminescent materials applied to plastic packaging labels or sleeves. The labels contain markers with specific wavelengths that emit when illuminated under ultra-violet light at 365nm. This emission can be coupled with the spectroscopy response of the polymer to uniquely identify and eject the packaging item. This allows a wide range of products to be uniquely separated from a mixed stream of packaging items.

This step is followed by a unique, high-performing decontamination process that extracts volatile and semi-volatile compounds from the PP. This involves a two-step process, starting with decontaminating during a high-temperature extrusion stage under high vacuum for an extended residence time (minutes), followed by a second stage of decontamination through exposure to vacuum in the solid state for a much longer period (hours).

Using this technology NEXTLOOPP has conducted the EFSA and FDA challenge tests that require deliberate contamination of the plastic material to higher levels than that typically found in the post-consumer stream. These challenge tests demonstrate the removal of all types of contaminants that might come in contact with the post-consumer plastic packaging back to food-grade standards to ensure safety in food contact applications.

Characterising PP contamination levels in post-consumer packaging

This raises the important topic of characterising the residues in post-consumer packaging that have been sorted into mono-polymer fractions. This is done by analysing and testing multiple batches of food/non-food samples to see what molecules are present and if there are any areas of concern.

Until recently there has been very little data showing the misuse rate within PP feedstocks, yet this background level of post-consumer product residues is vital as it defines the molecules that will need to be removed by the decontamination process and the residual levels that could potentially migrate into food.

This led Nextek to undertake their own study into the contamination rate of PP feedstocks in the UK to establish a reference contamination level for PP using the techniques used by Franz and Welle. The key variation to the Franz and Welle methods is that a GC mass spectrometer (GC-MS) was used to analyse the headspace of PP flakes, allowing for the identification of substances that cause samples to be outliers.

This provided further information as to whether the substances observed are genotoxic, which is the critical criteria for EFSA safety evaluations, and potentially determine if the substance is likely to be derived from the mis-selection of a piece of non-food PP packaging, which is not necessarily a case of misuse.

Although PP has very similar properties to HDPE being olefinic, the article format of PP being mainly trays, pots and tubs and rarely in bottles, may reduce the chances of it being in a consumer-misuse scenario.

A large proportion of PET packaging is relatively durable, with a tight closure, making it a container of choice when used for the storage of hazardous materials.

Because HDPE packaging is in bottle form with a closure it may also be used in such a scenario.

The proportion of PP food containers in bottle form is expected to be relatively low in comparison to PET and HDPE, where the majority of PP food containers would be in the aforementioned pots, tubs, or trays, with limited closure capability.

Nextek conducted this in-depth study of PP using a 20-tonne batch of PP bales sourced from a UK-based materials recovery facility (MRF). The co-mingled kerbside collections were sorted into material types such as fibre, plastics, and metals, and plastics were further sorted into categories of PET, PE and PP.

The 20-tonne batch was first sorted using automatic optical sorters into separated colour fractions of natural (clear), white and coloured articles. Each colour fraction was then hand sorted into articles from food applications and articles from non-food applications. The output mass of each food application fraction was 5.2 tonnes of natural, 1.7 tonnes of white, and 3.5 tonnes of multi-coloured PP. The average mass of a PP article was measured to be approximately 40 g per article; therefore, each fraction represented 130,000, 42,500 and 87,500 individual items respectively, and 260,000 individual items collectively.

Compositional analyses were carried out on each of the food application fractions. The articles were granulated into flakes as batches followed by washing in a conventional caustic hotwash. Samples of washed and dried flake (approximately 2 kg per sample) were taken every 15 minutes throughout the processing of the batches.

A composite sample for each batch was made by combining the samples collected during processing. The flake size was such that there were approximately 50 individual flakes per 1 g, and approximately 12 – 13 flakes accounted for half the sample mass. It’s estimated to be approximately 25 significantly sized flakes per 1 g. Approximately 200 subsamples, each 1 g, per composite sample were placed into 20 mL headspace vials for GC-MS analysis, resulting in an approximate combined total of 700 samples used in the analytical study.

The 700 tests represent approximately 17,500 different PP items based on 25 significantly sized flakes per test, estimated to be a cross-sectional representation of 7% of the articles from the combination of batches of 260,000 articles.

Following their contamination study Nextek was able to characterise the contamination levels in PP and conclude that they are in the order of 10x less than what we expect in HDPE milk bottles and 100x less than expected in PET.

These results reinforce Nextek’s global multi-participant project, NEXTLOOPP, which is closing the loop on food-grade recycled PP. By deploying innovative technology to effectively sort post-consumer PP packaging, the project is now harnessing these study findings to fast-track the production of their unique INRT-grade of rPP and food-grade rPP.

Unlocking the full value of plastic materials will go a long way towards reducing global plastic pollution, not to mention reducing plastic’s carbon footprint. If we hone in on PP alone, recycling 63,000t of PP per year would save a minimum estimated 105,600t in CO2 emissions in the UK per annum.

We now have the technology and expertise at our fingertips to make a fundamental impact on improving plastic packaging’s circularity, and in so doing, reducing our CO2 footprint and our plastic pollution.


News & Updates Sustainability

Compostable Tray Nudges EPS From the Meat Case

SEE’s new compostable tray performs as well as standard protein trays on food processing equipment and in distribution.

t a Glance

  • SEE’s new compostable meat tray offers an alternative to EPS and PET meat packaging
  • The tray runs at high speeds on existing overwrapping equipment
  • Tray is BPI-certified as industrially compostable, with DIN home-composting certification expected soon

SEE, formerly Sealed Air, has developed a bio-based, industrially compostable meat tray to replace expanded polystyrene (EPS) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) trays on existing overwrappers with no changes to the equipment.

The food-contact-grade tray was introduced at the recent International Product and Processing Expo, held January 30 to February 1, 2024, in Atlanta.

The new Cryovac compostable overwrap tray is made from a resin that’s USDA-certified as having 54% bio-based content chemically derived from responsibly sourced wood cellulose.

In addition to cellulose, the tray material contains 45% recycled content from mixed waste. This waste, which includes a variety of difficult-to-recycle plastics, is broken down into molecules to form acetic acid, which is then combined with wood pulp to create resin pellets.

SEE developed the compostable tray as a more environmentally friendly alternative to EPS and PET case-ready meat trays. The bio-based resin contains no per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Compostable tray: in-plant pluses and products.

“SEE’s compostable tray has been proven to maintain the same operational efficiencies on food processing lines as traditional trays. The tray is engineered for high speeds, including denesting, machine handling, and boxing operations,” says Tiffani Burt, executive director of sustainability, graphics, and smart packaging, at SEE.

Packaging applications for the new tray include fresh poultry, beef, pork, lamb, veal, seafood, smoked and processed meats, and alternative proteins.

SEE reports that the lightweight biopolymer tray’s performance and stability are comparable to that of conventional trays. Extensive testing throughout the food value chain showed the compostable tray performs well, without leaking, cracking, or breaking, in demanding manufacturing and distribution environments and at extreme temperatures.

“A leading brand owner initially collaborated with SEE to test the compostable tray on existing food production lines and is now using the tray to package some products for retailers,” Burt says. “We continue to test the tray with leading processors.”CompostableTray_PorkGroup_Angle-1600-570.png


Tray’s compostable certifications.

BPI has certified the new tray — sans overwrap, pad, and label/sticker — as compostable, which means it can be broken down via biological treatment at large-scale, commercial composting facilities.

Home-compostable status is on the horizon, as well. “The home-composability certification process for SEE’s compostable tray is underway now. We expect to receive DIN [Deutsches Institut für Normun] certification” in summer 2024, Burt says.

Additionally, TÜV Austria has certified the tray’s resin as soil- and marine-biodegradable; microorganisms existing in nature can break down the material with no microplastic left behind.SEE-CompostableTray_Chickbrst_Aerial-1600x900.png


Overwrap and retail considerations, options.

SEE currently offers the compostable tray in a 9-in. x 7-in. format (also known as 3P), “which is one of the largest-volume trays in the industry. Additional tray sizes will be available later this year,” Burt says.

The filled tray is finished with a heat-sealed overwrap film and is compatible with commonly used overwrap films, including Cryovac side-end-seal (SES) film, barrier display film (BDF), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film.

Shelf-life for proteins packed in the biopolymer tray is comparable to that of products packed in either EPS or amorphous PET (aPET) trays, SEE reports.

The bottom of the tray is embossed with language stating that it is industrially compostable. In addition, “retailers may choose to apply for the How2Compost label to be placed on the overwrap film or use other language stating the tray is compostable. Brands are also able to make labeling choices based on their needs,” Burt says.

“Ultimately, messaging on the overwrap film will depend on the sustainability needs/goals of the processor, brand owner, or retailer,” she adds.


News & Updates Sustainability

Amazon Recyclable Packaging in Europe, Subway Fiber-Based Catering Platters, Pizzarette Cooking Devices in Molded Pulp Packaging

The packaging industry is experiencing a substantial shift in materials, primarily driven by objectives centered around sustainability. The replacement of plastic remains a priority for many brands and retailers, as they seek alternatives that may provide a smaller environmental footprint or at least be more favorably received by consumers focused on anti-plastic. 

Amazon Moves to 100% Recyclable Packaging for Europe

Amazon has announced that it has ended the use of non-recyclable packaging across Europe. The company says that all deliveries will be packed in either a flexible paper bag, board envelope or a corrugated board box. The three packaging options are being touted as easy to open and recyclable at home in all of Amazon’s European markets. These changes will apply to orders shipped from Amazon’s own warehouses and also to those being sent via third parties through the ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ platform. Amazon highlighted that these changes will not detract from its ongoing work to ship products in their boxes without any additional packaging. Over the past year, the number of products provided in SIOC ‘ships in own container’ formats increased by 50%. These changes, combined, mean that Amazon has mitigated the use of more than a reported billion single-use plastic delivery bags from its European distribution since 2018.

Subway's switch to recyclable fiber-based catering platters helps eliminate 26 garbage trucks worth of plastic annually.
Subway’s switch to recyclable fiber-based catering platters helps eliminate 26 garbage trucks worth of plastic annually.

Subway Joins Forces for More Sustainable Catering Platter

Subway, the global sandwich chain, has partnered with Detpak in an effort to eliminate 26 garbage trucks’ worth of plastic annually by replacing its plastic takeaway catering trays with 100% curbside recyclable platters. Manufactured in Australia and New Zealand by Detpak, a subsidiary of the South Australian packaging company Detmold Group, the new fiber-based catering platter, designed and tested at Detpak’s LaunchPad R&D laboratory in Adelaide, is aimed at easy assembly, efficient storage, and transportation. The collaboration between Detpak and Subway reflects a commitment to innovative, sustainable packaging, with Detpak Group emphasizing the importance of reducing single-use plastic for environmental and social responsibility. Subway sees the shift to 100% recyclable alternatives as a step toward the broader goal of ensuring all packaging is recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable.

The new molded fiber packaging for Pizzarette protects the product's terracotta or ceramic dome while minimizing environmental impact.
The new molded fiber packaging for Pizzarette protects the product’s terracotta or ceramic dome while minimizing environmental impact.

Pizzarette Moves Pizza Ovens From EPS to Molded Pulp Packaging

Pizzarette is an innovative cooking device that prepares pizza directly at the table, which is distributed across the Benelux countries, Germany and Switzerland by EmerioBV. To make the oven more sustainable, the distributor has been studying alternative packaging materials. The solution that has been chosen is that of molded pulp. The dome of the oven is made of terracotta or ceramic and is, therefore, somewhat vulnerable. Tests have shown that it is best to pack the domes with molded pulp. The material has minimal environmental impact and is said to provide excellent cushioning properties to keep the domes safe during transport. Also, packaging made from molded pulp is made from recycled material and is therefore 100% recyclable. This meets modern packaging standards and reduces environmental impact as factories emit less nitrogen oxides NO and NO2 and CO2. The result is that 10,000 m3 of EPS and 1.2 million plastic bags per year are replaced.

News & Updates Sustainability

Consumers prefer paper packaging, want more packaging return programmes

The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (Pamsa) enlisted South Africa as one of the 16 countries that participated in this year’s global ‘Trend Tracker Survey’.

The biennial consumer research study, driven by Two Sides, seeks to understand consumer perceptions towards print and paper products, looking specifically at environmental awareness, reading habits, and packaging preferences.

The shift to online shopping has accelerated dramatically in recent years. At the touch of a screen, consumers can search for a product, order and have it delivered to their door, on the same day.

“Consumers have come to appreciate the safety, speed and convenience of buying products online, however many are increasingly concerned about how their goods are packaged and delivered, and how easy it is to recycle materials used,” said Samantha Choles, communications manager for Pamsa.

The global survey questioned more than 10,000 consumers on their preferences and opinions regarding various packaging types, their attributes and their impact.

Some 58% prefer products ordered online to be delivered in paper packaging while 56% are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging.

“Paper’s environmental credentials stack up especially in terms of recyclability and renewability. Of course, paper remains a versatile, beautiful material and adds to the tactile experience for the consumer,” noted Choles.

Packaging plays an important part in the purchasing decision from displaying vital product information to protecting its contents. Consumers were asked to rate various packaging materials – paper/cardboard, plastic, glass and metal – against 15 environmental, visual and physical attributes.

In 10 of the 15 attributes presented, paper/cardboard scored the highest among South African consumers: better for environment (55%), less expensive (56%), home compostable (65%), lighter weight (50%), safer to use (47%), easier to recycle (42%), easier to open/close (44%), better information about the product (39%), easier to store (32%) and more practical (36%).

A significant 77% of South African consumers said they would actively support retailers who offer a packaging return system while 60% would buy more from retailers who remove plastic from their packaging. Just more than half of consumers would consider avoiding a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging.

South African consumers are demanding that retailers do more to ensure their packaging is widely recyclable, and 42% believe that paper-based packaging is easier to recycle than other materials.

Recycling data reflects this belief to a certain extent: in South Africa, just less than 61% of paper and paper packaging (1.25 million tonnes) was recycled in 2022. Metal packaging has the highest recycling rate of 76%, while glass is 44% with the recovery of various plastics trailing at 43%.

A large proportion of consumers (80%) prefer products ordered online to be delivered in appropriately sized packaging to reduce waste, with 58% preferring paper packaging for online orders.

Consumers want government to do more about single use, non-recyclable packaging

Consumers were asked to rank who they believe has the most responsibility for reducing the use of non-recyclable single-use packaging:

  • 36% believe that governments and local authorities carry most responsibility in this area.
  • A quarter of the respondents feel that individuals should take responsibility through their personal choices.
  • 18% believe packaging manufacturers, brands and producers should be the leaders.
  • Only 4% felt that retailers and supermarkets carried the most responsibility.

More than 60% of respondents agreed that non-recyclable packaging should be discouraged through taxation. South Africa’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations, gazetted in 2021, has seen a levy imposed on a variety of packaging materials. EPR seeks to drive more circular and sustainable supply chains by designing packaging for better recycling and thus reducing the volumes that go to landfill.

“South Africa has some good examples of brands leading the way, especially with packaging design and substitution, and ensuring local recyclability, while also being fit-for-purpose and safe for food contact,” says Choles.

Paper regains its place on the supermarket shelf

At Pamsa’s roundtable in July, Don MacFarlane, packaging senior at Woolworths, explained how paper and board are no longer just used for shipment or tertiary packaging. MacFarlane noted that trends show a move back to cartonboard or paper packaging from multilayer plastic flexibles for products like washing powder.

Along with the switch to paperboard punnets for fruit and vegetables, engineered paper is increasingly being used as primary packaging for dry goods, confectionery, and snacks, with an example being Nestlé Smarties.

Choles echoed, “For the circular economy to work, each of us has a role to play – starting with designing products or packaging for recycling or re-use, through to responsible disposal and separation-at-source by individuals in households, schools or offices. Closing the loop can be further enabled by retailers and businesses who implement convenient collection programmes or employ reverse logistics.”

Checkers’ Sixty60’s paper grocery bag return programme is a great example of this. The first to use paper bags for online delivery, Sixty60 also enables customers to send their used bags back with the driver.


News & Updates Sustainability

Sustainability Milestone: Amazon introduces 100% recyclable delivery packaging in Europe

EUROPE – E-commerce giant Amazon has unveiled that its entire European fulfilment network now exclusively employs 100% recyclable packaging for all customer orders.

This initiative encompasses items sold by Amazon itself and those of its third-party selling partners affiliated with Fulfilment by Amazon.

Customers throughout Europe will now receive their orders in flexible paper bags, cardboard envelopes, or corrugated cardboard boxes, all devoid of any additional packaging. These materials are easily recyclable through household recycling streams after use.

Amazon has collaborated with vendors across Europe to ensure that a maximum number of its products are delivered in their ‘easy-to-open original packaging.’

Moreover, this recyclable packaging can be shipped directly to customers with an address label, eliminating the need for additional Amazon packaging.

In instances where extra packaging is still necessary, Amazon endeavors to use lighter and appropriately sized packaging. This strategy ensures secure delivery while minimizing the carbon footprint and waste generation.

Pat Lindner, Amazon’s Vice President of Sustainable Packaging and Mechatronics, expressed enthusiasm, stating, “We are thrilled that our European fulfilment network has transitioned to recyclable packaging for customer orders.

“This move is part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability. We will continue investing in innovative technology, machine learning, and sustainable materials to ensure packaging—whether used by us or others—is beneficial for our customers, communities, and the planet.”

Over the past year, Amazon has escalated the number of products shipped without additional packaging to over 50% in Europe.

By combining various initiatives, the company estimates that it has prevented the use and circulation of more than ‘one billion single-use plastic delivery bags’ across its European distribution network since 2019.

Additionally, Amazon is currently experimenting with diverse new technologies and innovations in Europe to further enhance the sustainability of its packaging.

These initiatives encompass paper-made padded envelopes, reusable delivery bags, and incentivizing selling partners to minimize their packaging.

The company has also introduced new automated packing technology to reduce packaging requirements for a wide array of everyday items.

Back in May 2022, nearly 49% of Amazon’s shares voted in favour of the retailer addressing its use of plastics at its Annual General Meeting, according to Oceana.

This was accompanied by a report suggesting that Amazon had generated around 709 million pounds of plastic waste through e-commerce sales in 2021, exceeding its 2020 estimate of 599 million pounds by 18%.

Since then, the company has made a number of announcements related to changes within its packaging portfolio – such as trialing automated packaging machines for on-demand, made-to-measure paper bags that seek to cut down on pack volume and weight, and encouraging brands to deliver items in their original packaging, negating the need for extra packaging during delivery.



Milliways switches to new ‘fully recyclable and biodegradable’ packs

Plastic-free, plant based chewing gum brand Milliways, has introduced a new packaging design alongside an update to its recipe.

Milliways new pocket-friendly design takes its cues from the pack created especially for Pret A Manger, loved for its pop-to-open feature and efficient re-seal.

The ergonomic boxes are still fully recyclable and ‘biodegradable’.

They’ve also been given a sustainability-focused upgrade, supporting the brand’s mission to reduce waste and single-use plastic consumption.

The designs feature crisp, clear branding along side product labelling, each pack designed separately for each flavour.

Milliways’ founder and chief executive, Tom Raviv, said: “The gum category has been starved of innovation and sustainable practices for decades, and this comes at the expense of consumers who want something new and exciting – better ingredients, unique flavours, sustainable materials.

“Launching our improved recipe and new pack design is testament to our continuous efforts and pursuit towards perfection.”


News & Updates Sustainability

Survey launched to understand household plastic recycling

Pledge2Recycle Plastics, part of RECOUP, has launched a survey to find out more about household plastic recycling practices.

The research aims to identify the items causing confusion in recycling, while questioning citizens about their commitment to recycling bottles, pots, tubs, and trays.

Stuart Foster, CEO at RECOUP, states, “We understand that recycling plastics can be challenging for people. Our research shows that even easily recyclable items often don’t end up in recycling bins. Astonishingly, out of the 38 million plastic bottles used daily in the UK, 14 million remain uncollected for recycling.

“We are determined to comprehend the barriers preventing people from recycling, despite the availability of kerbside collection, and the reasons why some recyclable items aren’t being given a chance to be recycled.”

RECOUP added that the aim is to create a comprehensive nationwide overview of the items that confuse individuals the most when it comes to recycling. As an added incentive, Pledge2Recycle Plastics will draw one lucky winner of a £50 high street voucher from the completed surveys every month.

The data collected from this survey will be compiled and shared with the plastics industry, Local Authorities, and other stakeholders. The objective is to identify necessary changes that will support plastic recycling efforts.



Digitally Printed Aseptic Cartons Create Marketing Magic

Tetra Pak pushes the power of digitally printed custom cartons with higher quality, shorter runs, and variable designs that unlock the packaging potential of targeted marketing.

Packaging Digest uncovered a variety of exciting packaging breakthroughs during Pack Expo last fall, one of which was Tetra Pak’s new in-house program for digital printing of cartons.

After learning the global aseptic packaging supplier was exhibiting at the Powder & Bulk Solids Show this spring in nearby Rosemont, IL, I hoped a stop-by booth visit might yield an update on the technology.

That hunch proved correct when it was learned that one million of Tetra Pak’s digitally printed aseptic cartons have been introduced into the market by brand owners around the world.

Which leads to this exclusive interview with Seth Teply, president and CEO, Tetra Pak US and Canada. Here’s what we learned about what the packaging supplier calls Tetra Pak Custom Printing, summarized in the following highlights.

Million carton milestone provides validation.

“This was part of the validation process finished last year, which confirms the robustness of this exciting new technology!” Teply enthuses.

Tetra Pak’s digital printing system offers world-class speed and countless graphic options.

The foundation for the endeavor is built on an advanced Rotajet digital printing system from Koenig & Bauer.   

“Tetra Pak’s digital printer is among the fastest digital printers in the food and beverage industry, with a speed of 240 meters/minute [Ed Note: that’s nearly 800 feet per minute!],” says Teply. “It’s a unique, industry-first development of inks and inkjet technology that includes an advanced system for inspecting variable designs.

“The digital printer includes a CMYK color system, has improved print quality for better contrast, and an increased resolution of 1200×600 dpi. These features allow for improved quality, for example no hard edges around faded areas. There’s also increased flexibility, which allows for numerous images and unlimited unique codes that can be printed in each batch. It’s the ideal solution for brands looking to reach consumers in new ways.”

Tetra Pak employees based in Denton, TX,celebrate a milestone in making the Tetra Pak Custom Print digital printing system operational.

Tetra Pak is advancing research and development of digital printing on multiple fronts.

“We never stop pushing the boundaries of innovation,” Teply tells us. Although he cannot share details at this time, he provides this synopsis by noting that Tetra Pak is…

  • Increasing the number of design variations that can be done on each run;
  • Researching the possibility of producing rare, one-of-a-kind designs for collecting or contests; and
  • Working to service brands of all sizes through smaller runs.  

Brands are leveraging the on-package potential of digitally printed quick-response (QR) codes.

“Our customers already see the potential for using high-definition QR codes for bringing dynamic content to consumers, including specific promotions, product information, company purpose/mission statements, contests, quizzes, and more,” Teply explains. “Many customers already have a wealth of digital content, and we see the potential to bring that content to consumers in a more targeted way.”Tetra PakTetra-Pak-Cartons-Digital-Printing-Packaging-GranPrix-3-800px.png

The digitally driven custom marketing option is “more than just packaging.”

“Tetra Pak Custom Printing is more than just packaging; it’s a highly impactful promotional tool that is taking advantage of landing directly in the consumer’s hands,” Teply points out. “Brands tend to focus their marketing budgets on channels that have become less effective and less engaging. [This] offers a unique approach, enabling brands to better reach consumers at a point when a product is already in their hands, being consumed, and are more open to what a brand has to say.”

Tetra Pak shares ideas and customers take it from there.

“We have only just begun to tap into the numerous possibilities of digital printing technology,” Teply reports. “We can share with customers about how they can leverage Tetra Pak Custom Printing to better engage consumers and grow their brands. We also know that the best ideas come from customers. We are excited to see what new ideas our customers will come up with to leverage this exciting new technology to better engage with consumers and promote their brands.”Tetra PakTetra-Pak-Cartons-Digital-Printing-Packaging-Athlet-Race-700px.png


News & Updates Sustainability

How a washable paper backpack is keeping festivals sustainable

With summer underway and Glastonbury on the horizon, packaging specialists Paper Bag Co have re-launched their Festival Bag for 2023, the primary material in this bag is 100% washable paper, and is filled with eco-friendly alternatives to some of the most common items found at most festivals.

What is in the Festival Bag?

Last year the festival bag was used by members of the public up and down the country including very special guests at Boomtown Fair who got access to a special edition of the bag.

What’s included: Stylish zip lock rucksack derived from paper, foldable wheat cup, bamboo compressed face towels, dissolvable body wash, toothpaste tablets, natural wax earplugs, biodegradable cornstarch poncho, bamboo toothbrush, biodegradable glitter and eco-toilet roll… everything you need to enjoy a festival or camping trip without leaving a trace.

Why launch the Festival Bag?

Paper Bag Co are one of the UK’s leading providers of paper bags and given the immense impact that single use plastics and products can have on the environment, they wanted to shine a light on festival waste and the impact it can have. The festival bag is made from a sustainable and environmentally friendly material base that helps festival goers have a great time without tonnes of waste.

Jon Marling, Paper Bag Co’s Founder and Managing Director is excited to see the bags out there in 2023. “We love these bags! and you may well spot them at a festival near you as we are nearly sold out. We wanted to shine a light on more sustainable products and alternatives to some of the common items used at festivals and often the packaging used within these items produces as much waste as the items themselves, all the materials in the bag are either recyclable or compostable, and will help keep our festivals clear of waste”

The festival bag is still available for order and at £39.95 per bag and contents, it is the perfect gift for any festival or camping enthusiast.