Sustainable packaging isn’t just a buzzword anymore. The global market for sustainable packaging is forecasted to reach $244 billion by 2018, finds a new market report, The Future of Sustainable Packaging to 2018, by Smithers Pira. 

As grocery stores and convenience stores continue to place an ever-increasing emphasis on “on the go” products, packaging manufacturers are primed to deliver sustainable packaging solutions to meet the needs of foodservice providers, consumers and legislators. 

“Packaging manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware that the needs of grocery and c-stores are different than those of quick-service restaurants and other foodservice channels,” says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packing Institute. “For a grab-and-go product, the main concern is that consumers want to see what they’re getting; they associate seeing the product with freshness.”

Recycled and recyclable paper and plastic still lead the sustainable market due to consumer familiarity and a well-developed recycling infrastructure, but degradable and compostable pulp containers are gaining traction.  

Sabert Corp. is one company paving the way in molded fiber pulp. 

“Both pulp and a novel product we recently launched called PLA are extremely sustainable materials that [are] both 100 percent certified compostable and recyclable,” says Jason Horbac, associate communications manager for Sabert. 

Dyer stresses that perhaps the most pertinent consideration for foodservice providers in reviewing sustainable packaging options is their community’s recycling infrastructure. 

“Not everything can be recycled everywhere and not everything can be composted everywhere — that capacity is going to vastly differ in communities across the country.”

While environmental advocates work towards more advanced recycling infrastructures in all cities, Dyer emphasizes a rise in foodservice operators showing their commitment through the use of some form of recycled content. 

Governments are also advancing the sustainable packaging agenda by legislating to minimize the environmental impact of increased packaging demands. For instance, according to Jack Tilley, market research manager at Inline Plastics Corp., a leading manufacturer of clear, 100 percent recyclable PET clamshell and two-piece packaging, many municipalities have banned or are considering banning plastic foam containers. 

Inline was an early adapter of PET plastic (the most recycled plastic in the world) and has recently adopted DPET, the #1 recyclable PET plastic on the market. 

“Inline’s DPET material is a low carbon footprint PET material,” Tilley says. “It is produced using a unique, energy-efficient proprietary process that has been shown to have a carbon footprint as low as competitive materials made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled PET.” 

Dyer says there are many sustainable packaging options available to grocery, deli and convenience store foodservice providers. 

“They just have to figure out what works best for them in terms of their performance needs, their customers’ needs and the interest of their corporate sustainability policy.”

The Foodservice Packaging Institute, she says, provides abundant resources for food industry professionals who need help finding the best sustainable packaging options for their businesses.