Better storage, more accurate dosing, less waste
More and more packaging is being developed specifically to make consumers’ lives easier. Reclosable packaging is on the rise, and there is also a trend towards more and better dosing aids. Such packaging helps consumers store products better, consume them in more accurate quantities, and waste less. While this is also good for the environment, the packaging does sometimes become more complex as a result.
Anticipating actual consumer behaviour
Reclosable packaging has been around since time immemorial. Just think of the many reclosable glass bowls, pots, and bottles. However, a great many new varieties of resealable packaging have been developed recently for a greater variety of products. Today, it is much more common to buy slices of ham and cheese in resealable trays with a click-shut lid or a film cover with an adhesive strip (see also Carrefour testimonial). ‘This latest development began around ten years ago,’ observes Peter Ragaert, a Technology Advisor at Pack4Food.
‘Previously, sliced ham and cheese was only available in disposable plastic packaging. Many consumers would take out what they needed and simply leave the rest. Because the opened packaging no longer closed properly, the goods dried out more quickly.’ With the resealable systems, the industry has cleverly anticipated actual consumer behaviour. Various systems are now available. The most well known are trays with click-shut or adhesive closures and bags with zip or rib sealing strips.
An alternative to portion packaging
Effective resealable packaging ensures that the remaining product stays fresh for longer. ‘In that sense it is sometimes a good alternative to portion packaging,’ explains Ragaert. ‘It anticipates the same combination of needs: buy in large quantities but consume in smaller quantities. Resealable packaging is also extremely userfriendly and flexible, since you can take out precisely the amount you want. Improved dosing aids are therefore constantly being developed, especially for liquid and viscous products. Think of the
screw-tops on drinks cartons, the nozzles on ketchup or mustard bottles, or the taps on the Bag-in-Boxes for wine, fruit juice, and milk. Bag-in-Box is a textbook example: instead of a 75 cl bottle, you now buy a 3 litre box, but thanks to the closing and dosing system, the contents stay fresh for longer.’
Good to remember
- More and more reusable packaging and dosing systems are being developed to anticipate the needs of consumers
- Effective reclosable packaging and better dosing systems ultimately mean less food waste, a major environmental gain.
- Conversely, these new packaging techniques generally require more material and are more complex. It is a continuous search for the right balance.
If food is stored in disposable packaging after opening, it dries out more quickly. An effective resealable tray solves this problem.
The Bag-in-Box is a textbook example: perfectly reclosable and fitted with a handy dosing system.
Research and development in a triangular partnership
Producers see reclosable packaging and dosing systems as a way of winning over consumers to their products. The industry therefore wants to continue developing user-friendly packaging. That however is not easy. ‘Producers have to bear in mind a great many parameters,’ explains Guy Dohogne, also a Technology Advisor at Pack4Food. ‘How do we limit the extra cost? How do we monitor food safety, for example if we use adhesives? What is the impact on filling systems? New packaging techniques are therefore almost always developed in a triangular partnership with a food producer, a packaging producer, and a manufacturer of filling systems. Together, they seek practical and safe solutions that are also efficient, economical, and environmentally sound to implement.
Ease of use and environmental considerations in balance
The impact on the environment is also a constant point of attention. ‘It is a continuous search for the right balance,’ says Dohogne. ‘A screw-top on a drinks carton or a cheese box with a click-shut lid inevitably means more material. On the other hand, they result in less product waste, which is a major environmental gain. In any case, you have to be extremely careful when determining impact on the environment. For example, where does the packaging producer buy its raw materials? What happens to the packaging material after use? If packaging comes from or travels
to the other side of the world, we also have to consider the environmental impact of its transport and the consequences for the local market. The way in which consumers shop also affects a product’s footprint. You can only estimate the environmental impact correctly if you perform a full life cycle analysis for each packaging design. We must limit the impact on the environment as much as possible by choosing the right materials and using the best available technologies.’
For additional information
Pack4Food is a consortium of knowledge centres, network organizations, and businesses concerned with innovative food packaging and sustainable and functional packaging. www.pack4food.be
Key role of consumer behaviour, but also of packaging
Too much food still ends up in the rubbish bin. Targeted campaigns involving local operators are vital in changing consumer habits to adapt their buying to what they need. At the same time, packaging enables companies to extend the shelf life of the product as well as provide better product dispensing, thereby reducing waste.
Belgians throw away more than 15 kg of food a year
According to FEVIA, Belgian consumers throw away between 5 and 10% of the food they buy. Between 15 and 20 kg of food per citizen ends up in the rubbish bin each year. This represents approximately 180 euros.
‘Even if consumers are generally more aware of the problem of food waste, we still have a long way to go,’ says Nathalie Ricaille, Policy Officer at Espace Environnement and Communication Manager of the European GreenCook Project. ‘To reduce food waste, we have to work on both packaging and consumer behaviour. That is why it is important to promote initiatives that encompass these two aspects, in particular by getting certain clear messages across to the general public.’
Longer shelf-life, better dosing
The actions being taken by the industry are many and varied. ‘As well as limiting the amount of packaging, the industry is deploying special efforts to reduce food waste,’ states Ricaille. ‘For
example, modified-atmosphere packaging used for meat, allows the packaged product to be kept in good condition for longer.’ Another type of ‘intelligent’ packaging indicates when the product should be eaten or warns when the cold chain has been disrupted during transportation.
In addition, companies are increasingly offering resealable packaging for products such as cold cuts and sliced cheese. The same is true of packaging that allows appropriate dosage or portioning. ‘Resealable packaging and dispensers help limit waste provided they are suited to the product. The key is to ensure that the packaging is perfectly suited to the product and its use. With the introduction of such packaging, consumers better understand the key role they play in protecting the product and extending its shelf life.’
Good to remember
- Packaging protects the product, extends its shelf life, and encourages efficient dosing.
- One of the key functions of packaging is to limit food waste.
- Reducing food waste also involves campaigns to raise consumer awareness.
Creative campaigns to change purchasing behaviour
Reducing food waste also involves changing consumer behaviour as well as packaging. ‘Campaigns are being developed at distribution level to encourage more responsible behaviour. Above all, the idea is to increase the visibility of products and packaging that help reduce food waste,’ continues Ricaille. ‘For example, some supermarkets, such as Leclerc in France, are introducing special labelling for packaging that creates less waste by calling attention to its ability to store the product longer, among other things.’
Another initiative, where possible, consists of promoting purchases of cold cuts and cheese sliced to order. This encourages consumers to match the amounts purchased to the actual needs of the household, thus reducing the risk of waste.
For fruit and vegetables, conversely, the appeal of bulk buying remains up for discussion. Frequent handling by consumers damages the more fragile fruits and vegetables. This leads, of course, to sizeable losses at the point of sale or at home. In any event, systematically packing each piece of fruit does not make any sense. The right approach therefore has to be found, from both an economic and an environmental standpoint.
GreenCook promotes local campaigns
The GreenCook Project focuses especially on reducing waste through supermarket campaigns. Coordinated by Espace Environnement, it brings together partners from five countries in northwestern Europe. ‘Several initiatives at the point of sale have been remarkably successful,’ declares Ricaille. ‘For example, nutritionists give demonstrations to explain to consumers how to prepare a sauce with tomatoes that are no longer presentable enough for a salad; or how to make smoothies with slightly damaged fruit. Another example: signs on the meat shelves give specific advice, for example, regarding the number of grams to allow per person.’
The GreenCook Project goes even further. In addition to supermarkets, the home, school canteen, and restaurant have also been identified as key sources of waste. Targeted campaigns are being developed for each of these. ‘The fight against waste is extremely topical. That gives motivated operators genuine room for manoeuvre to encourage the spread of these innovative initiatives,’ concludes Nathalie Ricaille.
Several initiatives in supermarkets are aimed at raising consumer awareness at the point of purchase.
About Espace Environnement
The Espace Environnement activity is linked to sustainable development. A partner to public authorities, associations, and businesses for more than 40 years, the institution promotes responsible ‘eco-citizenship’ that is based on consultation with local operators and the participation of residents. Its main action areas are land use planning, urban design, the fight against indoor pollution, the creation of green spaces, cleanliness, and reducing waste.
For additional information
A new Internet tool for successful ecodesign of your packaging
Do you want to adopt an ecodesign approach when optimizing or developing a package? Which elements must be taken into account? And where do you start? The www.pack4ecodesign.org Website helps you answer all of these questions.
The new Website is designed for packaging professionals. It was developed by Fost Plus based on a simplified life cycle analysis tool. The site is easy to use. It enables the identification of the impacts of your packaging—CO2 emissions, energy consumption, water consumption—and helps you reduce each of them.
An animated tutorial is also available, bringing you up to speed on how to use the tool in just a few minutes. The Intertek RDC consulting bureau developed the calculation tool that generates the simplified life cycle analysis results. The solutions and actions to be taken are suggestions by Fost Plus and have been added to the tool in order to enable it to do more than merely recognize the impacts of packaging. The Website is available in English, French, and Dutch.
This new Website efficiently complements the www.pack4recycling.be Website, which provides advice on how to improve the recyclability of packaging, as well as the www.preventpack.be Website, which develops various prevention actions in detail.
Good to remember
- The www.pack4ecodesign.org Website helps you with the ecodesign of your packaging
- This packaging optimization tool is designed for all packaging professionals.
- The site provides numerous tips to reduce the environmental impact of a packaging.
- It enables you to carry out a simplified life cycle analysis for numerous types of packages.
- It also enables the simulation of the benefits of a recommended action.