The frozen seafood sector faces a significant challenge regarding the packaging materials used to maintain the quality of their products at low temperatures. As concern grows over the environmental impact of plastic packaging, exploring more sustainable and effective options to preserve product freshness while reducing environmental impact is essential.
Impact of Transitioning to Sustainable Materials in Packaging for Businesses
The use of plastics in the fishing industry poses environmental and corporate image challenges. Companies face increasing pressure from consumers and regulators to reduce their plastic footprint, driving the search for sustainable alternatives that comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations.
The transition to sustainable materials also represents an economic challenge for the frozen fish and seafood sector, requiring additional investment in research and development, as well as in logistical adaptations.
However, commitment to more ecological practices improves companies’ reputation and image among consumers, attracting a more environmentally conscious market and aligning with global sustainability trends. Bain & Company’s “Global Paper & Packaging Report” indicates that 71% of consumers prefer to purchase sustainable products, and the same proportion shows a preference for products using the least amount of packaging possible.
Thus, frozen fish industry companies must find a balance between sustainability and profitability, seeking solutions that are economically viable and environmentally responsible.
Current Packaging: Plastic as the Predominant Option
Currently, plastic is the most widely used packaging material in the frozen seafood industry due to its ability to maintain product properties at extremely low temperatures.
In the frozen fish and seafood industry, various types of plastics are used for packaging. The most common are:
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): This plastic is often chosen for its strength and durability.
- Expanded Polystyrene (EPS): Known for its thermal insulation capacity and lightness, it is widely used for boxes that maintain the temperature of frozen fish.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): This material is used to make bags used before or after freezing the product, as they are elastic and resistant to oxygen and water vapor.
- PE-PVDC, PE/PVOH or PE/PA laminates: Used for vacuum packaging of fish or seafood before freezing and transportation
Plastic packaging offers notable advantages for the effective preservation of frozen products, as they provide an excellent barrier against moisture and oxygen and withstand low temperatures without degrading.
In addition, they are versatile and durable materials, adaptable to the different sizes and shapes required by the industry, being lightweight and economical compared to some alternatives. Another additional advantage is their transparency, which in certain packages, allows consumers to see the product before purchase.
However, plastic also presents significant environmental disadvantages. Plastic pollution in the oceans and the accumulation of plastic waste in landfills are growing and worrying problems. On the other hand, many used plastics are not recyclable or recycling is not economically viable. Thus, the fishing industry must seek more sustainable solutions to reduce its ecological footprint.
Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic in the Frozen Food Industry
Despite current limitations, sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging are being researched and developed for the frozen seafood industry. Some of the most promising options include:
Biodegradable and Compostable Packaging
Biodegradable and compostable packaging is gaining popularity as a more sustainable alternative to plastic. These materials naturally decompose in the environment, significantly reducing the risk of contamination. However, it is crucial to ensure that these packages are appropriately managed and composted to take advantage of their environmental benefits.
Some examples of these materials would be:
- Starch-derived bioplastics: Made from renewable resources like corn, these bioplastics can be used to make trays and containers for frozen fish.
- PLA (Polylactic Acid): A biodegradable polymer produced from renewable sources like corn starch. It is useful for creating transparent containers, similar to those made with conventional plastic.
- Cellulose-based packaging: Produced from natural fibers, these packages are biodegradable and can be designed to maintain the freshness of frozen fish.
- Sugarcane bagasse packaging: This by-product of the sugar industry can be transformed into sturdy and compostable containers for frozen foods.
- Seaweed packaging: Innovative and sustainable, these packages are made from algae and are completely biodegradable.
- Compostable films: Developed from biodegradable materials, these films can be used to wrap frozen products, offering a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic.
It is important to note that, although these materials offer more sustainable alternatives, their effectiveness in terms of product preservation, moisture resistance, and durability at low temperatures must be carefully evaluated to ensure they meet the standards required in the frozen fish industry.
Cardboard and Paper Packaging
Cardboard and paper are less harmful to the environment than plastic. These materials are recyclable and biodegradable, making them attractive alternatives. In addition, they can be coated with waterproof films to ensure product protection.
For example, there are ecological corrugated cardboard packages, designed to efficiently maintain temperature in the cold chain, both in refrigeration and freezing conditions. These packs feature a laminated paper lining combined with PE+PET, which is safe for food and resists moisture. Their design makes them easily recyclable by separating the two pieces. The use of corrugated cardboard can mean a significant reduction (estimated at up to 94.5%) in plastic use, compared to traditional expanded polystyrene boxes.
In addition, their flat format offers significant logistical savings in storage and transportation, with the consequent reduction in CO2 emissions.
Strategies for Sustainable Packaging Management
In addition to exploring more sustainable packaging alternatives, companies in the frozen seafood sector can implement other strategies to reduce their environmental impact:
- Optimization of Design: Redesign packaging to reduce material use and make them more environmentally efficient.
- Recycling and Recovery: Promote and facilitate the collection and recycling of packaging, educating consumers about the importance of proper disposal.
- Transparency and Labeling: Provide clear and accurate information about the packaging material used, encouraging consumers to make informed decisions.
- Industry Collaboration: Work together with other companies and the supply chain to find sustainable solutions throughout the process.
- Consumer Education: Inform consumers about the importance of sustainability in packaging and promote responsible purchasing practices.
In summary, the frozen seafood sector faces a significant challenge to reduce its dependence on plastic and embrace more sustainable alternatives. Through research, innovation, and collaboration, it is possible to find solutions that maintain product quality without compromising the environment. The industry has the responsibility to lead the way towards more sustainable packaging and contribute to the preservation of our oceans and marine ecosystems.
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