No Space For Packaging Waste – Part 2


In the first part of our exploration into innovative packaging, we looked at designs that were edible or had the potential to be used on a nationwide scale across supermarkets. This week we investigate how packaging reserved for convenience purposes, particularly within foodservice, manage to meet the needs of its consumers whilst also being sustainable.  

Convenience packaging is often the first targeted over waste because of its lack of reusability and the quick timeline between being packed with food to being used and then thrown away. Whether that’s grabbing a coffee on your way to work, getting a meal deal at lunchtime, or picking up a ready-meal to speed up evening eating so not to miss out on other plans, this is all packaging that is going to be used once for a short amount of time. 

According to The Guardian, Britain’s ‘lunch on the go’ habit is generating 11 billion items of packaging waste per year. So, the less time we take to meal prep, the more detrimental this is to the planet. So, as time-crunched consumers continue to demand food goods at a convenience, what are companies doing to help reduce the amount of waste they are creating each year, and has there been any interesting innovation in packaging to tackle this problem? 

Better! Butter!  

better butter packaging

Is it possible for packaging to be quite fun?

‘Butter! Better!’ has been designed by Yeongkeun Jeong in South Korea to combat the often-forgotten cutlery needed at picnics, so doubles up as not only the lid for the butter, but the knife too!  

The lid is made of a wooden material, and is a design that could be extended to yogurts and ice cream too. The downside? It’s likely a plastic cover would be needed to cover the lid. 

Designer Cho Hye-seung has already designed a similar yogurt spoon package that has the lid of the product to function as a spoon when folded. These designs however, are yet to be adopted by food brands in the UK but are certainly a source of inspiration for future packaging design. 

Entertainment packaging waste 

entertainment packaging waste

A BBC investigation found an estimated 23,500 tonnes of waste are produced by music festivals each year, this is the same weight as 78 fully loaded Boeing 747 airplanes. Other research into US music festivals such as Coachella and Stagecoach could generate around 100 tonnes of solid waste each day.  

A big part about entertainment events is the hospitality they provide, whether that be for music or sports events. There is evidence to show how this industry is taking big and meaningful step to reduce the amount of waste they produce without compromising on functionality of packaging.

In 2019 for instance, Glastonbury banned the sale of plastic water bottles, where in 2017 a million water bottles had been sold. Where refillable water bottles are becoming a norm in peoples rucksacks, what about other beverages? 

Every time the Miami Dolphins host a football game at the Hard Rock Stadium more than 50,000 plastic cups are given out. The next packaging innovation was used for the most recent Super Bowl in February.

Ball Corporation have created the ‘infinitely recyclable, lightweight yet sturdy Ball Aluminium Cup’ for cold beverages, especially when the corporations Chairman noted ‘sports fans are becoming more mindful about the impact their everyday choices have on the environment’. After a successful pilot in the US at the University of Colorado Boulder ahead of the 2019 football season, the company will be distributing millions of cups to select indoor and outdoor venues and are planning to introduce additional sizes that can be used across other venues such as parks, restaurants and colleges.  

This could be the sort of packaging we could being seeing within UK stadiums and arenas in the future. 

Fast Waste fast food packaging waste mcdonalds

What about the brands and companies that rely on single-use packaging such as fast-food chains who create packaging waste continuously, almost 24 hours a day?

McDonald’s is the largest fast food chain in the world, with 350,000 outlets across 119 countries, and according to a report from 2017 McDonald’s globally uses nearly 1.5 million tonnes of packaging per year.  

The company has been introducing new packaging that aims to remove and minimise plastic and improve recyclability, whilst still meeting the needs of customers who expect good quality food that is packaged functionally and meets food safety requirements as well as avoiding food waste. 

So far, they have removed McFlurry lids across every European country in which McDonald’s operates, have rolled out a new fibre-based lid in France for cold drinks (saving 1,200 tonnes of plastic per year), redesigned the paper straws and introduced a toy take-back programme for HappyMeal gifts to be recycled. 

Other trials of packaging include: wooden and paper spoons being tested to replace plastic McFlurry spoons, ReCup is a programme being trialled in Germany that provides customers with reusable coffee cups that can be returned, cleaned and reused, and in Ukraine sundae desserts are given to customers in waffles that they can later eat!  

The joy of being offered a McDonald’s balloon as a child has not gone unnoticed on the grounds of sustainability either, in the Netherlands and soon Belgium, recyclable paper masks are offered instead to continue the nostalgic tradition.  

The challenges to implementing these changes should be acknowledged. Interchanging the plastic to paper straws in the UK was difficult as they did not have the capacity to do so, plus they needed to be redesigned. Therefore, in some McDonald’s outlets in Europe they are trialling the new packaging in stores so they can get valuable, effective feedback from customers on innovative packaging solutions. By 2025, McDonald’s goal is to recycle guest packaging in 100% of its restaurants globally, so let’s wait and see what else they’ve got in mind. 

Other notable packaging designs and changes: 

600 billion paper and plastic cups are distributed globally each year, and Starbucks who make up for 1% of this total state they are invested in finding a more sustainable solution to this issue. They have committed to phasing out plastic straws from their 29,000 stores worldwide by 2020, eliminating strapless lids, with paper or alternative material straws available for blended beverages.

The company state on their website ‘Sustainability is about choices. We encourage our customers to join us in envisioning a sustainable future and choose reusability whenever possible.’ But is a discount on drinks when you bring in a reusable cup really going to prevent the damage is causing quick enough? Probably not.  

FutureSmart paper cup created by Huhtamaki is the first 100% renewable paper cup made from plants. What makes it so great? FutureSmart cups are made from PEFC certified renewable resources With the use of plant-based PE coating, the packaging is made from 100% renewable materials and fibre that are sourced from sustainably managed forests. Not just that, but the cups can be used for both hot and cold drinks and paperboard made from the same FutureSmart technology means food can also be packaged and used for takeaway purposes.  

Although there is less innovative packaging within convenience packaging in comparison to edible packaging, the reduction in the amount plastic being used certainly takes priority over smart technology when the amount of waste produced is so high.  

Find out in part 3 how premium packaging is being produced sustainably.  

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