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Plastic-Free Era: Top Green Packaging Trend You Need to Know!



Starting from April 22 this year, the first phase of the Product Eco-Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2023 (hereinafter referred to as “the Amendment Bill”) will be officially implemented. In the first phase, the government prohibits restaurants from selling and providing takeaway customers with expanded polystyrene (EPS) and four types of disposable plastic tableware, such as stirrers, straws, knives and forks. Moreover, the provision of all nine types of disposable plastic tableware to dine-in customers will also be prohibited. By then, both citizens and restaurants will need to embrace a "plastic-free" lifestyle and adapt to the inconveniences brought by the policy during the transition period. 


For restaurants, choosing suitable eco-friendly utensils and containers as alternatives is indeed a major challenge. Since most eco-friendly utensils have higher production costs with lower heat and water resistance, many restaurants that serve hot meals (including soups and fried dishes), such as Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong-style restaurants), Chinese restaurants, and soup noodle restaurants, find it difficult to find suitable containers. An unsuitable container may easily cause food spillage or result in deformation which not only affects the taste and quality of the food but also the reputation of the restaurant. 


On the other hand, F&B selling pre-packaged or takeaway food and beverages, such as bubble tea and street food, may also need to re-evaluate whether their current packaging meets the requirements of the Amendment Bill. It is therefore crucial for the F&B industry to pay attention to the latest news announced by the Government and keep abreast of the global green packaging trends in order to choose the most suitable "plastic-free" solution for their businesses. 


What are the Hot Design Directions of Eco-packaging? 



Due to frequent natural disasters and pandemic, there has been a global rise in environmental awareness. Consumers are increasingly concerned about environmental conservation and sustainable development. Innova Market Insights further indicates that consumer attitudes have shifted from focusing on "personal health" to conserving "the health of the planet" since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2022. When environmental conservation has become a universal value, it is of high importance for all walks of life, particularly industries consuming a vast amount of plastic packaging and tableware, to swiftly react to the global trend. Adopting eco-friendly design is indeed an effective way to address the issue. FOODIVAL has therefore gathered the latest green packaging and material trends for you to formulate better strategies on packaging! 



1.Adoption of Minimalism and Reduction of Redundant Packaging  

More and more brands in the market are abandoning luxurious and intricate packaging designs in favor of simplicity. This includes reducing unnecessary patterns, prints, colors, and layers on the packaging, opting for simpler and minimal color combinations and single-material packaging instead of composite packaging materials to enhance recyclability. In addition to its eco-friendly nature, minimalist packaging also presents a sense of elegance, transcendence and dedication which may help establish a more unique brand image. It also reduces carbon emission by saving materials and reducing production time and costs. Furthermore, technology advancement can enhance the functionality and environmental benefits of packaging. In Taiwan, Coca-Cola introduced the first label-free bottled water called "bonaqua". They utilized laser engraving technology to imprint nutrition information directly onto the transparent bottle, while the barcode is printed on the bottle cap, reducing the need for plastic labels. Some companies also used QR Code on packaging to replace physical users’ manuals and promotional leaflets for reducing paper and energy consumption even further. 


2. Adoption of Eco-friendly Materials 

Due to its nature, plastic materials can take an estimated 400-500 years or more to decompose naturally. The plastic packaging only adds to the burden of landfills, which is inconsistent with the principles of sustainable development. Addressing this issue, many companies have been investing additional resources in researching and adopting biodegradable packaging materials. These materials are expected to become the mainstream in the market, significantly alleviating the severe environmental impact caused by plastic products, in the future. The Kraft Heinz Company (Heinz), a well-known ketchup manufacturer that accounts for 30% of the global market, officially announced in 2022 that it will cooperate with Pulpex, a recycled packaging company, to jointly develop recyclable paper ketchup bottles. The process will utilize 100% recycled paper pulp, which has the dual benefit of being recyclable and reusable, as well as suitable for composting.


What are the hot popular eco-friendly packaging and utensil materials on the market?


Paper 

Paper is one of the most commonly used eco-friendly materials for making food containers. However, paper food containers often consist of a thin layer of plastic film to achieve water and oil resistance which makes the recycling process more complex due to the removal process of the film.  Moreover, there are concerns that these containers may release plasticizers which are harmful to human. Yet, advancements in food technology have significantly improved the safety of paper containers. Based in Sweden, the multinational food packaging and processing company, Tetra Pak, has utilized FSC-certified papers and adopted plant-based polyethylene (PE) film with "Bonsucro Certification" for their new packaging design. This transformation guaranteed 100% recyclability. In Taiwan, the first plant-based packaging with recycled “biopastic” has been developed by Tetra Pak Taiwan and I-Mei Foods by adopting FSC-certified papers and PE components with "Bonsucro Certification". The Nippon Design Center in Japan also introduced the concept of "Easily Disposable Lunch Box" which is made from a single material. Consumers can simply fold the box along the creases and dispose of it after consuming the meal without the need for sorting, making recycling even more convenient. The lunch box is divided into two parts, a lid and main body, with the body being folded from a single sheet of paper, which minimizes risk of leakage of liquids. Although the inner layer does not consist of a coating, the special paper material used in the lunch box is still resistant to water and oil.




Plant Fibre

Plant fibre containers are primarily made from natural and plant fibre. The production process will not release any harmful substances and the containers can naturally decompose which makes them eco-friendly and aligned with the universal principle of sustainability. Furthermore, plant fibre has a higher density which is excellent for storing food due to higher heat and cold resistance when compared to traditional paper containers, allowing easy maintenance of food temperature and prevention of food leakage. In general, plant fibre containers can withstand temperatures ranging from -20°C to 120°C. They can therefore be directly heated in a microwave and stored in a freezer. However, if the temperature and humidity of the food are too high, there is a possibility that the container may soften or deform as water vapor may be trapped inside the container due to its high density nature. Therefore, it may not be an ideal option for containing soup or soup noodles.


(Photo Source:Taipei Walker)


Non-toxic and Sustainable Plastic 

With technology advancement and increasing awareness on sustainability, many companies have allocated extra resources to develop new eco-friendly materials, and from that, “Tritan” emerged. Tritan is an non-toxic and eco-friendly plastic that is 100% recyclable which has been certified by FDA and passed other tests in Japan, Canada and Europe. It is also proven to be harmless to human. What's even more special is that Tritan is more heat, wear and shock - resistant than other eco-friendly materials. Not only can it be reused, it can also be applied in making food utensils, water containers and baby products. The only disadvantage is that the cost of Tritan is higher than other traditional materials, making it difficult to be widely used in the F&B industry in the short run. McDonald's in France is one of the first chain fast food restaurants that introduced Tritan. In response to the local government requirements that restaurants with more than 20 seats must provide customers with reusable and washable food utensils and containers to replace disposable products, McDonald's in France decided to make a new series of eco-friendly tableware and containers from Tritan. During the production process, McDonald's specially added small ventilation holes on the fries box to prevent the situation where the fries become soft due to water vapor, thereby retaining the original flavour and quality of the food and hence enhancing customer satisfaction. 


Eco-friendly tableware has been developing rapidly. Restaurants can choose suitable tableware according to their operational needs and budget. Despite its higher costs,  eco-friendly tableware are beneficial to environmental conservation and social sustainability. When implementing the Amendment Bill, the HKSAR Government can consider enhancing the support for the F&B industry, such as financial assistance or subsidy in the transitional period, to ease their operating difficulty and prevent restaurants from passing on the extra costs to consumers. Furthermore, it is beneficial for the HKSAR Government to take forward the promotion and reward schemes in order to raise the environmental awareness of the citizens and enhance the recognition of the policy. Last November, the third “Plastic Free Takeaway, Use Reusable Tableware” Campaign was rolled out by the HKSAR Government. Customers can receive stamps for takeaway orders by opting out disposable cutlery at participating eateries with “Plastic-free Rewards” mobile APP. After collecting certain numbers of stamps, customers can redeem complimentary offers or gifts provided by eateries or GREEN$ for redeeming daily necessities. The scheme not only encourages the public to bring their own tableware, but also reduces the cost of purchasing eco-friendly disposable tableware for restaurants in the long run. I believe that through the collective efforts of all sectors of society, Hong Kong will be able to realize its green vision of becoming a healthy, livable and sustainable city in the near future.



If you would like to know more about how FOODIVAL (restaurant procurement and inventory management system) can help improve your restaurant’s operational efficiency and cost control, please contact us here.

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