Containers and Packaging

The Quest For Sustainable Packaging - The Answer Lies In Nature

The Quest For

The Answer
Lies In Nature

  • Population growth

    The relationship between humans and the planet

  • Environmentally friendly

    Feeding a growing population

  • Circular economy

    Reducing the impact on climate and resources

  • Carton package

    Creating the world’s most sustainable food package


A global population forecast of over 9 billion by 2050 could require up to 70% more food.

The relationship between humans and the planet is increasingly under pressure

The human footprint is already a problem; and with the global population forecast to exceed nine billion by 2050, it means feeding an additional 50-80 million people each year. Feeding this growing population would require up to 70% more food. This food does not just need to be produced but it also needs to be delivered and accessed, safely; with minimal impact on our planet’s ecosystem.

Sustainability is now considered business-critical across industries, with companies pioneering impactful initiatives to shrink their carbon footprint and rethink resource use. For the packaging industry too, the stakes, like the temperature and the sea level, are rising.

To be sustainable, packaging must harmonise food safety and access, with climate and resource responsibility. The rate of population growth means doing much more with a lot less impact.

So when it comes to the quest for truly sustainable packaging... the answer lies in nature.

Why sustainable packaging matters?

Packaging has a pivotal role to play in sustainable food production and consumption.

Packaging is both valuable and beneficial to securing food safety and availability, from the producer, via the wholesaler and retailer, to the consumer. It helps reduce food waste.

However, if sourced, designed and manufactured unsustainably, that same packaging may come at a high cost to the environment and the planet.

To be truly sustainable, therefore, packaging must satisfy multiple demands, simultaneously, says Adolfo Orive, President & CEO of Tetra Pak:

“Food packaging plays a critical role in feeding the world, helping keep food safe, nutritious and available for people everywhere. At the same time, the world needs packaging that respects nature and protects the planet we all call home.”

Adolfo Orive, President & CEO
Tetra Pak

Food safety, security, and access

Food production

Feeding over nine billion people a day by 2050 is more than a just a challenge, it is a concern.

The environmental impacts and implications are huge. Food production is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, with around one third of all food either lost or wasted, 1.3 billion tons a year never even gets eaten.

In response to the impending crisis, though, innovation abounds — ranging from irrigation by robots, via soil-free vertical farming, to precision agriculture based on satellite data.

It is against this backdrop of population growth outpacing food production, that the importance of packaging really starts to stand out. Yet there are a number of other factors to be considered for the full picture.

Climate, circularity, and the consumer

Nobody, anywhere, is immune to the impact of climate change.

With the prospect of global warming exceeding 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, we are facing catastrophic consequences. In response to this emergency, keeping any increase as low as 1.5°C is needed to align with the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative.

The food sector is only one piece in the climate jigsaw — all industries and sectors are seeking to align their strategic plays. For instance, the international shipping industry is innovating widely, exploring the use of AI to optimize fuel efficiency, saving both money and carbon emissions.

For packaging, use of fossil fuels in production is coming under intense scrutiny, with carbon footprints problematic for materials such as aluminium and plastic.

Recycling is not the whole answer

To radically improve the environmental footprint, mitigate climate change and protect nature, we must look at the full life cycle of the package. Recycling is only a part of the solution and is not sufficient by itself. Disposal is only one small, limited part of the picture, as evidenced by the fact that whilst recycling rates reached 47% in the EU in 2018, a staggering 91% of plastic is not recycled. In fact, the Circularity Gap Report 2020 reveals the world today is only 8.6% circular.

In short, we cannot recycle our way out of the situation, and we necessarily need to look at the use of materials and the carbon impact of the package.

For instance, if we look at the footwear and apparel industry, there are ongoing initiatives to source low carbon natural materials from regenerative agriculture.

Making conscious choices, the modern consumer wants to, and can drive impactful change.

Survey after survey shows the so-called Blue Planet generation to be increasingly conscious consumers, looking to align their lifestyle choices and purchasing decisions with their values and principles. Findings stating that half of all British respondents would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, for example, are typical.

These carbon-literate consumers are actively looking for climate-friendly solutions and more sustainable products. They purposely use their purchasing power in a more active way, demanding brand transparency and supply-chain traceability.

The fact that paper is a renewable, recyclable and low-carbon resource, therefore aligns on many fronts with such Millennial and Gen Z market values.

Solving the challenge of sustainable food packaging

All these aspects show that a more systemic approach to sustainable packaging is needed to help mitigate the impending food and environmental crisis.

Adopting a full 360° perspective was therefore essential for Tetra Pak when setting its ambition to create the world’s most sustainable food packaging, which requires delivering on five key, interconnected areas:

  • Use renewable or recycled materials, so that the planet’s resources are not drained; and source them responsibly in a way that protects biodiversity and nature.
  • Be carbon-neutral, allowing for ambient distribution and storage, reducing the negative impact on climate.
  • Remain safe and convenient, reducing food waste and giving people everywhere access to quality food.
  • Be fully recyclable — supported by an effective recycling system that keeps materials in use.
  • Maximise the use of materials with a reduced impact on nature — because waste management systems are not optimal and not all materials can be infinitely recycled.

Committed to 100% renewable energy and net zero green-house gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, Tetra Pak is aspiring for net zero GHG emissions across the value chain by 2050.

The company already has a strong track record with many firsts. Tetra Pak pioneered the use of aseptic technology in the 1950s; it was the first to introduce FSCTM (Forest Stewardship CouncilTM)* — certified carton packages in 2007; first to introduce a renewable beverage package in 2014; and even the first in Europe to launch paper straws in 2019.

Now, committed to 100% renewable energy and net zero green-house gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, Tetra Pak is aspiring towards zero GHG emissions across the value chain by 2050.

*The FSCTM licence code for Tetra Pak is FSCTM C014047

Towards a plant-based future:
Go Nature.
Go Carton.

True sustainability is radical, disruptive even.

A Tetra Pak carton package is made of about 70% paperboard, which comes from responsibly managed forests, which regenerate, taking up carbon dioxide as they grow. However, it also contains thin layers of plastic and aluminium, which play a key role in securing food safety.

This is where the company wants to go further, maximising the use of paper-based content while reducing the use of aluminium and plastic. It aspires to create the ultimate sustainable food package, that is made solely from responsibly sourced renewable or recycled materials, is fully recyclable and carbon-neutral, allowing ambient distribution and meeting food safety requirements.

This will only happen through active collaboration with food producers, innovators and the entire value chain to take an industry-wide view. Only then can we be a part of the solution… towards building a sustainable future that works for people as well as the planet, concludes Adolfo Orive:

Carbon neutral

“We believe that by starting with responsibly sourced, renewable or recycled materials, neutralising our carbon emissions during production and distribution, continuing to innovate on food protection and traceability, increasing recyclability and maximising plant-based content, we can create the ultimate sustainable package that still secures food safety and availability.”

Adolfo Orive, President & CEO
Tetra Pak

This kind of all-in commitment to sustainability underpins the transformative vision required for business to help futureproof global food production in a sustainable way.

Feeding nine billion within a 1.5°C world calls for innovative thinking and actions — not just from companies, governments, and NGOs, but also individuals, including leaders, influencers, and everyday consumers. Ultimately, sustainability is a joint responsibility.

This page was paid for by Tetra Pak. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.