For many brand owners in the meat, poultry and seafood industries, sustainability ranks as a primary business goal. To reach sustainability targets, products, packaging, and operations must be considered holistically and collaboratively, according to “Achieving Packaging Sustainability,” a report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. 

The benefits of increased packaging sustainability can be significant. The report notes, “Sustainability presents an opportunity for businesses facing increasing competitive and economic pressures to gain value and competitive advantage as they respond to environmental concerns and the pressures of resource scarcity, population growth, and higher and more varied consumer expectations.” 

The challenge, however, is to determine which actions will maximize positive impact on waste, costs, recycling, efficiency, and the transition to a circular economy where products and packaging are recovered and converted into new products and packaging. What can processors do to ensure they’re focusing on the right strategies?

 Partnerships are key to success

Achieving a circular economy requires a multifaceted approach including seeking out opportunities to adopt reusable packaging, which can make multiple trips between the manufacturing operation and the retailer or consumer. It also requires processers to use more recycled materials, but also to assume a more active role in recycling in general—collaborating with recyclers is vital to obtaining recycled material and making sure recycling instructions for end users are accurate.

Sustainability success also depends on collaboration with materials providers, OEMs and other stakeholders. Wherever possible, meat, poultry and seafood processors should: 

  • Consider carbon impact as part of the business case for any action
  • Shift to green energy sources
  • Specify machines that consume less energy and upgrade infrastructure, e.g., lighting, to use less energy
  • Retrofit machines to run sustainable materials 
  • Reduce consumables like lubricants, inks, adhesives, and labels 
  • Use lightweight containers, closures, and packaging materials 
  • Vertically integrate package production by self-manufacturing 
  • Specify renewable, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging material  
  • Use less plastic and generate less waste whenever possible

The value of testing and education

However, these actions must be evaluated for potential negative consequences. For example, if a change in structure and/or materials reduces protective qualities, damage rates may rise. Damaged products that are rejected or returned increase waste and costs, delay delivery, impact sales, and hurt the reputation of the company or brand. Therefore, sustainability-boosting concepts should be tested thoroughly before adoption. This can be accomplished through pilot projects in-house or at a contract packager.

In addition, it’s essential to educate consumers about the role of packaging, sustainability efforts, and how to recycle each package. But care must be taken to avoid “greenwashing,” the listing of unsubstantiated claims and environmental attributes. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission regulates environmental marketing claims under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” The agency’s Green Guides help stakeholders determine what claims are appropriate. Environmental labeling requirements also are outlined in ISO 14020.

With careful strategizing and working in concert with partners, processors can achieve their sustainability goals. As PMMI’s report notes, involving recyclers and third-party auditors can optimize operations, and processors can even get involved in legislative efforts and work with producer responsibility organizations to ensure they’re advocating for the best solutions for the industry.

 Finding solutions at PACK EXPO International

Products and services to create a more sustainable world will be featured at PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022; McCormick Place, Chicago), where a PACK EXPO Green icon identifies exhibitors that provide renewable, biodegradable, source-reduced, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging materials or technologies that reduce carbon footprint. Sustainability-related educational sessions also will be offered, and the Reusable Packaging Association is once again sponsoring the Reusable Packaging Pavilion and the Reusable Packaging Learning Center. 

It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations, and the best place to do that is PACK EXPO International—the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts to seeing new technologies, materials, and machinery-in-action, PACK EXPO International is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for over 40 vertical markets. No other event this year will showcase entire production line solutions and offer attendees everything needed to compete in a changing marketplace. For more information and to register, visit