A new study commissioned by UPM Specialty Papers and Smithers suggests that even in 2040 as much as a a fifth of all food packaging could still be landfilled or incinerated unless packaging innovations accelerate.

More than 200 professionals from across the global packaging value chain were surveyed as part of the report, which UPM Specialty Papers described as ‘the first-ever collective assessment of key trends that are projected to drive sustainability in the food packaging industry by 2040.’ 

At present the recycling rates for food packaging packaging, predominately made from plastic, remain relatively low. UPM Specialty Papers says that whilst fibre-based packaging is widely recycled in non-food uses, the industry believes that by 2040 fibre-based packaging will approach circularity as technical development ‘broadens its suitability for food packaging.’ Recycling rates for plastics are also projected to grow.

According to the report, the industry anticipates the global share of polymer-based packaging will fall by half over the next two decades in sustainable food packaging applications, while fibre-based materials are projected to contribute to over 40% of all materials in use for food packaging.

Maria Saloranta, the company’s vice president of strategy, commented, ‘The packaging industry will focus research and development efforts to meet increasing consumer and regulatory demand for more recyclable and compostable packaging. As a result, we expect the share of fibre-based food packaging to grow, accelerated by breakthroughs in barrier properties and use of smart technologies that help relay information to consumers quickly and easily.’

Ciaran Little, global vice president of business development at Smithers, added, ‘The survey shows the industry is anticipating a $20 billion shift from polymer-based to fibre-based packaging by 2040. The use of polymer packaging will not be eliminated but will focus on robust applications in which high strength barrier requirements and reusability are critical.’