Food Packaging

Food Packaging: Roles, Materials and Environmental Issues

By Abhijeet Shah
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Food Packaging

This article is about the different types of food packaging, their individual roles in the packaging industry along with how to minimize their effects on our environment through waste prevention, recycling and composting.

Recent advances in food processing and food packaging play a key role in keeping the U.S. food supply chain one of the safest in the global circuit. Quite simply, packaging extends the lifespan and shelf life of food products long after the process is complete, allowing the foods to be transported over long distances from their point of origin and still remain edible at the time of consumption.

Food is one of the few products consumed at least three times a day. Consequently, food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of all the total packaging waste by volume alone.

The Role of Food Packaging

Preservation. Food packaging helps in retaining the benefits of food processing and preventing the deterioration of food products, increasing the safety of food. Packaging is designed to protect against the following classes of external physical and biological influences.

Biological protection provides a barrier against microorganisms, insects, rodents and other animals, which prevent spoilage and disease.

Physical protection safeguards food from damage and provides a cushioning against any shocks and vibrations faced during distribution.

Containment and Food Waste Reduction. Any assessment of food packaging’s impact on the environment must take into consideration the positive benefits of reduced food waste throughout the supply chain. Inadequate preservation, storage and transportation have been cited as the main causes of food wastage.

Marketing and Information. The packaging is the face of the product and is usually the only product exposure that most, if not all, consumers will experience prior to purchasing. Consequently, innovative or distinctive packaging can differentiate your product from the competition and enhance your product image.

Traceability. Most food manufacturing companies apply unique codes such as barcodes onto the package labels of their products, allowing them to track their products through the distribution, processing and production process.

The following are some materials used in food packaging:

Glass. It is advantageous to use glass in food packaging applications as it is inert and odorless. Glass maintains product freshness for longer, because it is impermeable to vapors and gases.


  • Aluminium Foil. Aluminium foil is one of the best barriers in the flexible packaging industry and is used to wrap and package food in stand up pouches as well as the thicker foil used to make trays.
  • Laminates and Metallized Films. Laminated packaging is typically used to package high-quality foods such as spices, herbs and dried soups. A less expensive alternative to laminated packaging is metalized film. The individual components of laminates and metalized films are technically recyclable.
  • Tin Plate Films. Tinplate is ideal for containers of different shapes and sizes. Tinplate is generally used to form flour or sugar-based confections, aerosols and processed foods and cans for drinks.


  • Polyolefins. Polyolefins is a collective term for polyethylene and polypropylene.
    There are basically two categories of polyethylene: Low density and high density. High-density polyethylene used to make retail bags, trash bags, margarine tubs and bottles for water, milk and juice. Low-density polyethylene is resistant to moisture, easy to seal, tough, strong and flexible.
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate provides a good barrier against gases and moisture. It also has good resistance to acids, solvents, mineral oils and heat. It is fast becoming the packaging material of choice for a lot of food products such as mineral waters and beverages due to its glass-like transparency, light weight and shatter resistance.
  • Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is used as a replacement for glass in products like large refillable water bottles and sterilized baby bottles due to its clear, durable and heat-resistant qualities.
  • Polystyrene. Polystyrene, an addition polymer of styrene, is clear, hard and brittle with a low melting point. The usual uses are for food trays, bottles, plates, cups, lids, disposable cutlery and egg cartons.

Paper and Cardboard

  • Paper
    • Kraft Paper. Kraft paper is produced in different forms such as bleached white, heavy duty, unbleached and natural brown. The natural kraft is the strongest of all paper and is used for wrapping and bags.
    • Greaseproof Paper. Greaseproof paper is made through a process known as beating and is used as food packaging to wrap snack foods, cookies, candy bars and other oily foods.
  • Paperboard. Paperboard is thicker than paper with a higher weight per unit area and is usually used to make containers for shipping.
    • White Board. White board is generally used as the inner layer of cartons and is made from numerous thin layers of bleached chemical pulp.
    • Solid Board. Solid board has multiple layers of bleached sulfate board and is used to package soft drinks and fruit juices.

Three Ways to Solve Environment Issues

  1. Waste Prevention. Waste prevention reduces the amount or toxicity of the waste generated by manufacture, purchase or use of the original materials and products as well as by change of design. Waste reduction techniques generally include the designing of more durable products, less packaging and the reuse of materials and products.
  2. Recycling. Recycling involves reprocessing materials into new products. A recycling program usually encompasses collecting, sorting, processing, manufacturing, and the sale of recycled products. To make recycling economically feasible, recycled materials and products must have a market.
  3. Composting. Composting involves arranging the organic materials into piles and providing sufficient moisture for aerobic decomposition by microorganisms, which leads to the creation of humus which is a soil-like matter that can also be used as natural fertilizer.

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Abhijeet Shah, Packing Supply

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