Sustainability is top of mind for the meat industry, both for improving efficiency and managing resources. Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability can also be good for the bottom line.

A majority of respondents to a 2014 Nielsen survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries expressed a willingness to pay more for products from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. The same survey also indicated that consumers want companies to be transparent and honest about their sustainability efforts.1

It is not difficult to find evidence of the meat industry responding to these consumer sentiments. Across a wide spectrum, there is a trend toward adopting green practices in various aspects of production. It’s also clear that these practices — combined with new equipment technologies to increase meat processing and packaging efficiency — are making an impact.

Keep it simple, use less

Much of the conversation surrounding sustainability-enhancing practices has centered on source reduction: cutting back on the amount of packaging material, simplifying recycling by avoiding the use of complex laminations with aluminum layers to package meat products, and reducing the use of water and energy on processing operations. Creating smaller packaging containers that use fewer materials not only saves on costs, but also streamlines shipping logistics. More packages can fit in a shipping container, improving efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Exploring biodegradables

Recycling is a key component of sustainability efforts, but it gets complicated if different materials are mixed together. Just because something can be recycled doesn’t mean it will be. Manufacturers therefore are seeking ways to avoid comingling materials in combinations that are hard to recycle. One way to do this is to use entirely biodegradable materials or combinations of them. Natural fibrous materials have proven to be winners for creating packaging containers; these materials can include bulrush, sugarcane bagasse, wheat or rice straw and other plants that are ideal for composting.2

Some fibers offer more sustainability benefits than others. For example, plant materials that grow quickly, like bamboo, reduce the environmental impact.

There’s another topic, however, that’s influencing the debate: food insecurity. Rising levels of concern for people around the world who don’t have enough to eat have spawned a trend to avoid fibrous materials when the plants in question, such as corn, are part of the food chain. The critics say growing food crops for non-food use diverts resources (e.g., water, soil) from food crops and removes it from the food chain.

Keeping it dry

There’s no getting around it: Meat production can be messy and wet. Packaged meats almost always require a layer of material to keep outer packaging dry. Seeking a green alternative to synthetic plastic, manufacturers are exploring new bio-based plastics or biopolymers that are environmentally friendly alternatives. Derived from natural starches, cellulose, collagens and other materials found in nature, biopolymers are biodegradable and renewable.3 Manufacturers therefore see a green solution; a biopolymer film within a fiber-based tray will create an entirely biodegradable meat package that can withstand the wet environment and be compostable.

Lean green machines

The meat industry also has an array of innovative equipment choices that make processing and packaging more efficient. Most new machines are equipped with “stand-by” modes that reduce energy use. A number of manufacturers have also redesigned their equipment with improved hygiene in mind. Many offer flatter, sloping surfaces that are easier to clean and sanitize, requiring less water and chemicals for wash-downs. Using less and creating greater efficiency is the “green” motto these days.

Going green at Pack Expo Las Vegas

Meat manufacturers and their suppliers can see some of the cutting-edge technologies that enhance sustainability by visiting Pack Expo Las Vegas (Sept. 28-30; Las Vegas), produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Pharma Expo — an event co-produced by PMMI and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE), will make its Las Vegas debut this year, co-located with Pack Expo. Both shows will bring together more than 2,000 exhibitors showcasing new processing and packaging innovations to 30,000 attendees in more than 800,000 net square feet of exhibit space.

Attendees can also maximize their time at the show through educational programs and pavilions such as The Brand Zone, which showcases innovations on packaging materials, labeling, decorating and re-sealing technologies. There will also be more than 40 free Innovation Stage presentations offering insights from exhibitors and industry experts on a full range of packaging and processing topics. ISPE has also curated a world-class schedule of educational sessions with the Pharma Expo Conference Program. NP


For more information on Pack Expo Las Vegas and to register, visit Registration for Pack Expo Las Vegas and Pharma Expo is $30 through Sept. 14, when it increases to $100.


Source: Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility (polling 30,000 consumers in 60 countries), June 17, 2014.

Source: H. Clancy, “California company offers sustainable packaging for meat, fish,” ZD Net, Oct. 27, 2011.

Source: “What are Biopolymers?”,, n.d.

About PMMI

PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, is a trade association representing more than 700 companies that provide a full range of processing and packaging machinery, materials, components and containers. PMMI actively brings buyers and sellers together through initiatives such as, educational programs and world-class events, connecting participants in the processing and packaging supply chain with their customers around the world. PMMI produces the PACK EXPO portfolio of trade shows that include PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2015 (Sept. 28–30, Las Vegas Convention Center); Pharma EXPO, co-located with PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2015; EXPO PACK México 2016, May 17–20, 2016 (Mexico City, Centro Banamex); PACK EXPO East, Feb. 13–15, 2017 (Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia); EXPO PACK Guadalajara 2017, June 13–15, 2017 (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico). PMMI owns the PMMI Media Group, a market-leading B2B media company that produces information for processing and packaging professionals, bringing together solution providers and end-users and facilitating connectivity throughout the supply chain. Its world -class media brands — Packaging World, Automation World, Healthcare Packaging, Contract Packaging and Packaging + Processing OEM — are proven leaders in covering this diverse and dynamic marketplace, and its digital products incorporate leading-edge media technologies to deliver informed, actionable business intelligence to the industry. PMMI Media Group also produces The Automation Conference, an annual education and networking forum, taking place in Chicago each spring.