Of all the items sold by a grocer, the critical one is food. Like other consumer items, food articles require proper packaging; but several quality standards and guidelines are specified as an item of human consumption.
The core objective of packaging food is preservation (against moisture, temperature, oxygen and light), safety (biological microorganism) and presentation. The conventional materials used for packaging food are plastic, metal, glass and paper.
The choice of packaging material depends on foldability, weight, inertness and temperature resistance, a barrier to gas, impact resistance, availability, convenience, and cost. The texture of the material has an essential role in selecting the material; packaging products require a combination of rigid, semi-rigid and flexible types (of materials).
Plastic is still the most used packaging material for items in a grocery store today. World over scientists and activists are advocating a ban on plastics in packaging because it is non-bio-degradable. Neither it can be burnt nor recycled (to get back the original properties).
The search for green alternatives is actively going globally, and every country is trying to identify the ideal eco-friendly packaging solution.
But what is eco-friendly packaging? Let us first understand the concept. Eco-friendly packaging, by definition, is any packaging that is safe for individuals and the environment, biodegradable, easy to recycle and manufacture, and involves low consumption of energy and natural resources. It encourages the use of renewable materials.
With a global focus on reducing fossil fuel derivatives, the packaging industry is recognising the opportunities in moving to more environmentally friendly packaging solutions.
We all depend on grocery stores for our daily necessities. When we visit a store or order online, typically, we come in contact with packaging twice. First, we buy mostly packaged products, and second, we need a container or bag for carrying them home.
The second category of usage is gradually shifting to paper/jute or reusable bags. The critical issue today is for primary packaging to move to a viable eco-friendly alternative.
Let us look at some of the green materials already in use in many countries and undergo further improvements for better utility and cost-effectiveness.
Eco-friendly Packaging solutions
Biodegradable packaging materials used for food and other consumer items can be broadly grouped into three categories:
A. Plant-based plastic materials or bioplastics
B. Recycled paper products
C. Reuse products like recycled containers and bags.
1. Starch-based biomaterial
Corn starch-based packaging is becoming increasingly popular due to its versatility in the application; from loose-fill packaging to the soda water bottle and household containers, corn-based products become a top choice for manufacturers.
2. PLA plastic containers
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a type of high molecular polymer made from lactic acid. PLA is typically sourced from agricultural waste and plant starch from sugarcane, corn and beet pulp.
It is certified as a food-safe packaging material and is used for making containers and cups for food and beverages. The products made from PLA are suitable for both hot and cold applications. PLA is gaining fast popularity because of its characteristics which are similar to that of PP (polypropylene), PE (polyethene) and PS (polystyrene).
Presently used for making bottles and eco-friendly packaging boxes and also used in biodegradable medical devices.
3. Sugarcane bagasse containers
Bagasse, the fibrous and pulpy leftover sugarcane after extraction of sugar, is used for making containers and cups and plates. The bagasse containers are sturdy, store greasy food and are suitable for both hot and cold applications.
The containers are also microwave and refrigerator safe.
4. Plant bottle
The beverage majors (Coca-cola and Pepsi) both use bottles made from a plant-based biomaterial. The material for bio –bottles are sourced from sugar cane, pine bark, corn husk and other natural materials. These plant-based bottles are recyclable and can degrade fast.
5. Biodegradable packing peanuts
The ideal alternative to polystyrene, these peanuts are typically used for cushioning and gap-filling applications in packaging. Foam peanuts in India are made from corn starch and sorghum.
The foam peanuts are non-toxic and have no electrostatic charge. Foam peanuts, however, are not rodent-proof, and therefore, boxes lying in stock at a grocery store may be a potential attraction for rodents. Scientists are working on removing this drawback to widen the user base.
6. Organic fabric
Different organic fabrics are among the popular eco-friendly products used as an alternative to plastic packaging.
The organic materials could be recycled cotton, palm leaves, tapioca, jute and many more. The primary characteristic of all these materials is biodegradability. The strength of fibre comes next.
Natural cotton bags are the most popular in the segment of organic fabric, mainly for their durability. Cotton bags can be washed easily and reused for years. Cotton bags are suitable for printing making them a prime choice for brand promotion.
B. Recycled Paper Products
Recycled paper and cardboard packaging products are made out of raw material extracted from waste paper. Lower cost is a significant advantage of recycled paper which acts as an incentive to the paper industry.
Experts say that paper can be recycled almost ten times to create a new product with the same strength and other properties. The recycled paper finds significant application in food and beverage and personal care segments.
Recycled cardboard boxes are mainly used for providing outer packaging.
1. Corrugated bubble wrap
Paper wraps are made from waste cardboard and perform the same cushioning functions as standard bubble wrap (made from plastic). Protecting fragile items during transit and handling is the primary role of bubble wraps.
This new development addresses ecological concerns in two ways: replacing plastic bubble wrappers and using cardboard packing as a raw material.
The industry is still working on improving the protective benefits of corrugated bubble wraps. The Indian packaging industry is looking at paper bubble wrap as a cost-effective and eco-friendly packaging solution.
2. Coated Paper containers
Coated paper containers are made from recyclable Kraft paper with a poly coating to allow you to pack a wide range of food, both in hot and cold applications. Researchers are working on replacing the poly coating with a plant-sourced plastic like PLA or similar.
Coated paper Containers are leakproof and grease resistant and can hold oils, gravies and sauces. It’s breathable and allows passage of steam, and can be used safely for packing hot food.
3. Moulded pulp fibre packing
Pulp fibre is made out of recycled paper or cardboard, and the pulp is moulded to design containers, cartons, food service trays, and specially designed egg cartons. Pulp fibre packaging does not contain any additives or coatings and is typically compostable.
C. Reuse products
Primarily a responsibility of the customer or the user, a little effort on everyone's part can do away with many plastic carry bags in India. Cloth or jute bags are ideal for repeat use at a grocery store or a local vegetable market.
The final word
We all realise the seriousness of environmental pollution. Several countries have either totally banned or restricted the use of plastic and its derivatives in packaging.
From plant-based materials to recycled paper, a whole lot of alternate packaging options are available. However, a visit to the local grocery store portrays a different picture, with plastics still dominating the scene.
More vital legislation, a greater green initiative by the consumer business industry in India, will undoubtedly shift the entire primary product packaging to eco-friendly materials.
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Q. As a customer, how can I help the green initiative in packaging?
Ans. The manufacturers of the various consumer items sold through a grocery store have to adopt the packaging solutions. As a customer, you can contribute to the effort through reusable bags to carry your purchases. If all of us can do this, a substantial amount of plastic usage will reduce.
Q. What is the extent of eco-friendly packaging today in India?
Ans. Environment-friendly packaging solutions are catching on, with several branded shops (modern retail) exclusively using biodegradable materials. In many large cities, sweet and savoury shops are only using recycled boxes for packing. The e-retailers are also opting for recycled packaging material.
Q. What is the best example of environmentally friendly packaging?
Ans. Three principal factors decide eco-friendliness - Biodegradation, recycle-ability, low or reduced energy use during processing.
|We hope our article helped you with your research. You can also find detailed list of grocery stores in these cities:
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