Food Packaging in a Post-Covid World

Artur Oboleński, Head of Packhelp Lab, Experienced Packaging Manager, gives his expert opinion on the future of food packaging in a post-covid world.


How Packaging Contributes to Plastic Waste


A recent study has shown that takeaway food and drink packaging dominates the plastic rubbish littering the global oceans. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, this problem only escalated. Overnight, many restaurants were forced to start selling takeaway to survive. Whether we realize it or not, that had an enormous impact on the eating habits of consumers all over the world.

Just Eat Takeaway, a leading global online food delivery marketplace, reported that orders in Europe increased 61% in the first half of the year. Another big trend, restaurant meal kits, continue to grow in popularity. More than half of American adults say they’d likely purchase a meal kit offered by their favourite restaurants, even though they’re open.

This coincides with new laws introduced by policymakers worldwide that aim to fight plastic pollution. On July 3rd, the European Union banned using certain single-use plastic products such as cutlery, plates and straws. New Zealand has proposed banning single-use plastics entirely by January 2025.

Here are the three most important facts that should influence the decisions that restaurants make when choosing their take out packaging:


Brown is the New Green


Sustainable alternatives for takeaway food packaging are widely available. Think of paper bags, wrapping paper or any type of paper-based food container. Yet, for an extended period, the industry kept on choosing short term convenience while ignoring the long term impacts of such a decision. Plastics have a high barrier to water, grease and microbes, but these same features prevent it from breaking down and carry an astonishing environmental burden.

In the 1980’s, paper food packaging was the go-to solution for one reason – it was cheap. When the production of oil-based plastics became cheaper, plastic bags and polystyrene containers flooded the market. Reverting back to the sustainable, pulp-based packaging will take time and initial investment, but in the long run, will pay off.


Sustainable Packaging is (Not) Boring


One misconception about sustainable takeaway food packaging is that it’s visually dull and nothing more than brown cardboard. With the advancement of printing technology, water-based inks can now be printed on food packaging while remaining safe to come in contact with food. Such technology has enabled small restaurants, food trucks, and other eateries to design and order customised food-safe packaging in smaller volumes, enhancing both the eat-in and take out experience. What was once a branding opportunity that only giant fast-food chains had access to is now accessible for the local ma and pa corner bakery.

If you have the resources and the desire, your food packaging solution can also be tailored in terms of size, shape, form, and materials, specific to the food products you’re selling.

Customised inserts turn readily available mailer boxes into secure shipping solutions for cupcakes, muffins and other sweet treats.

Food packaging is being added to offers of many packaging suppliers working with small and medium companies. Not to look far, Packhelp, a popular European marketplace for bespoke packaging, has just launched a range of takeaway boxes and other sustainable food packaging solutions.


COVID’s Impact on Food Packaging


Comfort food in the form of takeout was essential to many during the ups and downs of the past year, but it shouldn’t come at such a high environmental cost. Luckily, another side effect of COVID-19 is that consumers want healthier food options and require better transparency about its origins. Already 46% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging when grocery shopping.

The future? It’s pure speculation whether the worst of COVID is behind us, and if the eating habits of consumers will prefer take out, or return back to restaurants to socialise and have a nice feed. What is clear though, is that the increase in takeaway food over the last several months has impacted the environment.