Dive Brief:
Südpack, a German packaging company, released two new sustainable packaging concepts for meat products that use significantly less material, according to FoodBev Media. Both solutions are created out of polypropylene and remove the need for a tray, which is typically used for minced meat.
The Flow Pack PurePP is a film that uses only 60% of the material involved in traditional tray packaging. In addition, Südpack​’s Multifol PurePP film can be used for vacuum pack solutions and requires only 55% of the material in classic minced meat packs.
Separately, scientists have discovered that beetle larvae commonly sold at pet stores can consume eight times more polystyrene plastic than other worms capable of digesting the substance, according to a paper published by the American Chemical Society. After 21 days, these “super worms” finished 70% of the polystyrene plastic given to them.

Dive Insight:
Even as packaging for water is upgraded to non-plastic containers and more fruit enclosed in plastic wrappers is replaced by environmentally friendly materials made by companies such as Apeel Sciences, meat packaging has remained relatively untouched. Styrofoam trays secured by a thin sheet of plastic remain prevalent in meat cases across the U.S. However, this latest release from Südpack may drastically change the appearance of packaging used for animal-based protein and make it more sustainable.

Packaging is one of the largest causes of waste in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated packaging and containers account for a significant portion, about 23%, of the municipal solid waste stream in the United States, equal to an estimated 39 million tons per year.

The reality that much of today’s virgin plastic ends up in the landfill rather than recycled has fueled pressure from consumers for a packaging alternative. A 2018 survey from Nielsen found nearly half of U.S. consumers said they were likely to change their purchasing decisions to meet environmental standards. Despite this continued call for sustainable packaging, plastic remains an economical solution for companies. 

Not only is plastic a cheap and widely-available material, but companies looking to switch their packaging methodologies often need to invest millions of dollars to retool their machinery. Nestlé said in January it plans to spend as much as $2.1 billion to shift its packaging from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled ones. It’s also investing and working with Loop, a company that claims its containers are environmentally neutral after three uses.

For companies without the financial wherewithal to switch to a more sustainable alternative, plastic remains a practical solution. Even some larger companies like Coca-Cola continue to rely on this material; the company said in January it will continue to use plastic packaging because the lightweight and resealable format is popular with consumers.

Due to the popularity of new packaging options, many businesses, including Südpack, are striving to create more sustainable versions of plastic for widespread use. Recently, Mondelez announced it is updating its Philadelphia cream cheese packaging to contain recycled plastic processed by Berry Global.

At the same time, researchers are looking at ways to make plastic more easily recyclable. Scientists from the chemistry firm Carbios recently discovered an enzyme that can break PET plastic down into food-grade material in a matter of hours. It has already partnered with PepsiCo, Nestlé and Suntory to help scale and commercialize the technology.

Now, scientists have found superworms can digest another form of plastic known as polystyrene. This latest addition to plastic decomposition efforts may give pause to companies that have been working furiously to find sustainable packaging solutions. While the worms did not completely digest all the plastic they were given in laboratory tests, they did substantially reduce the quantity.

If these superworms are used with mealworms and waxworms, which are known to consume plastic, these organisms may become an option for companies that want to use the material. The solution becomes even more effective if companies paired creatures that render plastic disposable with packages that use less plastic overall.