Sustainability Success Depends on Collaboration

Food processors need to look holistically when setting sustainability goals.

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When setting sustainability goals, food processors need to look at products, packaging, and operations holistically and collaboratively. “Sustainability presents an opportunity for businesses facing increasing competitive and economic pressures to gain value and competitive advantage,” notes Achieving Packaging Sustainability, a new report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

The challenge is to determine what action(s) will maximize positive impact on waste, costs, recycling and efficiency, and therefore drive the transition to a circular economy. 

Opportunities to improve sustainability

As PMMI’s report explains, achieving sustainability goals requires looking both within and beyond your organization to develop actionable solutions. Food manufacturers need to:  

  1. Understand what your sustainability goals are and establish key performance indicators so results can be measured.
  2. Involve a third-party auditor to help optimize operations.
  3. Involve recyclers.
  4. Involve producer responsibility organizations.
  5. Participate in legislative efforts and standardization work. 

Success depends on collaboration with materials providers, OEMs and other stakeholders. Wherever possible, food processors should: 

  • Consider carbon impact as part of the business case for any action.
  • Shift to green energy sources.
  • Specify machines that consume less energy.
  • Retrofit machines to run sustainable materials.
  • Reduce consumables like lubricants, inks, adhesives and labels.
  • Use lightweight containers, closures and packaging materials.
  • Generate less waste.
  • Specify renewable, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging material. 
  • Use less plastic. 

These actions must be evaluated for potential negative consequences, however, such as higher product and packaging material costs. Often, these costs cannot be passed along to the consumer, who may be unwilling to pay a premium for a more sustainable product.  Sustainable designs or materials must also not impact protective qualities or else damage rates may rise. Damaged product that is rejected or returned increases waste, adds costs, delays delivery, impacts sales, and hurts the reputation of the company or product. Therefore, before adopting a sustainable design, it should be thoroughly tested to ensure the transition will not have any unacceptable consequences. 

Industry evolution

As sustainability efforts evolve, CPGs are beginning to shift their attention to four areas of activity: 

  • Carbon footprint ratings for machines.
  • Digitalization and smart connected systems.
  • Achieving a circular economy.
  • Educating the public about the role consumers play in better stewardship of resources and waste reduction. 

In Europe, for example, defining the carbon footprint rating for each machine is rapidly becoming part of the purchasing process. PMMI’s report predicts that this trend is likely to spread to the U.S. 

Meanwhile, the use of digitalization and smart connected systems continues to expand. This technology can boost productivity and also makes it possible to capture data that can be used to conserve resources ranging from manpower to utilities like water and compressed air.  

Lastly, implementing a truly circular economy—where products and packaging are recovered and converted into new products and packaging—will involve a multifaceted approach. CPGs must: 

  • Look for opportunities to adopt reusable packaging, which can make multiple trips between the manufacturing operation and retailer/consumer.
  • Collaborate more closely with recyclers to take a more active role in these processes.
  • Use more recycled materials. 

Finding solutions at PACK EXPO International

Efforts to create a more sustainable world will be featured at PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022; McCormick Place, Chicago), where a PACK EXPO Green icon identifies exhibitors that provide renewable, biodegradable, source-reduced, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging materials or technologies that reduce carbon footprint. Sustainability-related educational sessions also will be offered, and the Reusable Packaging Association is once again sponsoring the Reusable Packaging Pavilion. 

It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations, and the best place to do that is PACK EXPO International – the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts to seeing new technologies, materials, and machinery-in-action, PACK EXPO International is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for over 40 vertical markets. No other event this year will showcase entire production line solutions and offer attendees everything needed to compete in a changing marketplace. For more information and to register, visit

Jorge Izquierdo is the vice president of market development at PMMI.

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