Evolution of Sustainable Food Packaging – Circular Economy

The Evolution of Sustainable Food Packaging for A Circular Economy

By Felicity Kelly, the Head of Sustainability at Bunzl Australia & New Zealand

Food packaging is a major contributor to landfill waste and demand for food packaging is forecast to increase up to $58 billion by 2027.

Historically a lack of options has hindered progress toward a circular economy. This previously posed a significant challenge to creating a sustainable food packaging industry. But the tide seems to be turning thanks to investment in research and development to help produce packaging materials that are and will assist the transition towards a circular economy.

The food packaging industry is evolving towards more sustainable practices due to concerns about traditional packaging materials.

Sustainable Food Packaging and the Circular Economy

A circular economy is a more sustainable model for production and consumption that aims to tackle waste and pollution, along with global challenges including climate change.

The three main principles are designing systems to reduce waste, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, and regenerating natural systems. Sustainable food packaging aligns with these principles as they reduce waste and environmental impact. Innovations in sustainable types of food packaging materials, such as bioplastics, mycelium, and even seaweed, are revolutionizing the packaging industry and the adoption of these materials allows an approach that contributes to a more sustainable future.

Evolution of Sustainable Food Packaging - Circular Economy

Technological Advances Driving Sustainable Food Packaging Solutions

Technological advances along with customer awareness are driving food packaging solutions. There is an industry focus right now on materials, bioplastics, and nanotechnology. These innovations help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, and enhance the safety of food by keeping it fresh for longer.

In the United States, almost 60 million tons of food is discarded every year and effective food packaging solutions can play a crucial role in reducing this waste. The future of sustainable packaging looks promising as the evolution towards a more sustainable future also offers economic rewards to those who adopt this new technology.

– The global food packaging market is expected to exceed $400 billion with recyclable materials representing a fast-growing subset of this market.

Recyclable packaging materials break down naturally over time, reducing landfill waste and preventing long-term pollution.

– Edible and bioplastic packaging are sustainable alternatives to traditionally single-use materials.

– Nanotechnology, such as nanocomposite films, can enhance the barrier properties of food packaging to extend the shelf life while saving resources.

Consumer Awareness and the Demand for Sustainable Packaging

Consumer awareness has played a crucial role in the demand for sustainable packaging. Increased customer awareness of “green issues” has greatly influenced the packaging industry to reduce the environmental impact of packaging to promote a circular economy.

Modern consumers demand recyclable, reusable, and compostable materials in their products and packaging wherever possible. This demand has led to the adoption of innovative practices in materials in packaging. Consumer preferences have influenced current market trends that prioritize sustainability, thereby shaping business strategies, particularly when it comes to research and development.

There is a feedback loop in the packaging market where customers are initially driving demand, then businesses meet the demand while also educating consumers about the impact of their packaging and sustainable materials. This leads to greater customer demand and explains the rapid evolution of sustainable packaging.

The Power of Consumer Influence

It would be hard today to find consumers who are not aware of the environmental impact their purchasing choices can have.

A major part of the growing demand for sustainable packaging solutions is due to this heightened awareness. Businesses involved in the manufacture of packaging need to be aware of this shift in consumer behavior so they can meet the demands of modern environmentally conscious consumers.

Companies that underestimate the power of consumer influence are likely to see their profits suffer when their competitors take advantage of technical innovation to satisfy the demands caused by this heightened customer awareness.

How the Circular Economy Meets Consumer Demands

The global focus on sustainability means that businesses are increasingly having to move out of their comfort zone to embrace the circular economy to meet consumer demands. Recyclable, reusable, and compostable packaging is the way forward.

Companies looking to remain competitive must embrace the shift and re-evaluate their strategies. Investing in research and development is crucial. Modern packaging materials such as plastics and paper-based alternatives are the way forward. Reusable packaging options made from recyclable materials that can be refilled, along with compostable packaging, are products that are fast gaining traction in the industry.

These recyclable products help companies navigate the new circular economy while meeting consumer demand and helping to create a more sustainable world for future generations.

Shifting Strategies from Compliance to Innovation

Shifting focus from compliance to innovation has become imperative for any company seeking to embrace sustainable packaging.

Customer awareness is such a powerful driving force that all businesses have been forced to reassess their packaging strategies. This increased demand for packaging means companies must go beyond simple compliance with regulations and embrace innovative approaches by actively engaging with consumers.

Understanding the concerns of consumers can help businesses develop innovative solutions that meet all current sustainability requirements while satisfying their target audience in terms of environmental benefits. However, this aspect should not be treated as a negative, as this growing customer demand can also present untapped opportunities for businesses to differentiate themselves from competitors and gain a competitive market edge.

Focusing on this consumer environmental awareness can pave the way to a more sustainable and prosperous future.

Circular Packaging Practices: Challenges and Opportunities

Implementing any new business practice always comes with challenges and opportunities. Regulatory compliance and current industry standards play a role in sustainability, however, implementing circular packaging practices has additional financial implications.

Ensuring that materials are sourced and recycled in a way is key to ensuring the supply chain and logistics of any business can play a role in circular packaging practices. Though this transition will likely have initial upfront costs, this should lead to financial benefits over the longer term.

Image sourced from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation

Graphic by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Circular economic systems diagram
Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation


In conclusion, the food packaging industry is a huge consumer of single-use plastics which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but is undergoing a major transformation led by a combination of customer demand and regulatory frameworks. This investment in research and development has created a new range of renewable and compostable packaging materials that align with the principles of a circular economy that seeks to reduce waste and maximize natural resources.

Despite the financial and technical challenges, the implementation of circular packaging practices offers many long-term environmental and economic benefits.

Author Bio:

Felicity Kelly

Felicity Kelly is the Head of Sustainability at Bunzl Australia & New Zealand. She assists organizations in enhancing their sustainability performance and reputation, as well as managing their entire value chain through stakeholder engagement, communication, risk management, problem-solving, strategy development, and execution.

Felicity holds a Master’s degree in Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management from Monash University. She has extensive experience working across various sectors, primarily in Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and logistics