Most of us have done it at one point—leave a take-out restaurant or café with our order in a plastic bag or in a polystyrene (PS) foam container, but times are changing and more consumers are willing to adapt their habits in the interest of protecting the environment.
The pressure is on retailers to meet consumers' expectations and develop sustainable strategies to keep in step with environmental policies introduced by governments.
In a recent online survey of 3,000 North American consumers commissioned by FPInnovations, 33 percent of consumers said they try to refrain from buying a product that is packaged in PS foam because they believe it is bad for the environment, followed by 19 percent who said they try to refrain from buying a product packaged in plastic because of environmental concerns. Seventy percent of consumers aged between 18 and 35 said they would be willing to pay a premium for a paper-based single-use food container.
Overall, 57 percent of consumers surveyed said they would be willing to pay between five cents to a dollar more for a paper-based take-out container. With public interest aligned with environmental sustainability, FPInnovations researchers are investigating the feasibility of recyclable and biodegradable fibre-based packaging replacing PS foam and single-use plastic products.
"Exciting things are happening in the area of recyclable packaging. The topic is regularly in the news," says Ayse Alemdar-Thomson, an analyst in FPInnovations' business intelligence group. "Our survey showed consumers are willing to pay extra to replace PS foam with paper. The second important outcome is that consumers consider packaging materials like PS foam harmful to the environment. The survey demonstrates there is consumer interest and will to support biodegradable and recyclable alternatives, which indicates there would be market support for fibre-based single-use restaurant packaging."
An area of interest for FPInnovations is the convergence of paper-based single-use food and beverage packaging such as containers and cups, and existing fibre-based biomaterials to increase the functionality of paper-based quick-service restaurant packaging. "There are biodegradable and bio-sourced materials from the forest industry that can potentially replace petroleum-based coatings. The raw materials are renewable and the end product would be recyclable and biodegradable," says FPInnovations scientist, Javad Saberian.
A feasibility study will begin later this year.