One of the main goals in Atria’s package development is to create packaging that is environmentally friendly – reducing materials, waste, as well as emissions.
– Designing environmentally friendly packaging is the guiding light in everything we do — the choices we make and the materials and solutions we use, explains Jarmo Marttala, Packaging Development Manager at Atria.
– Consumers are continuously demanding more environmentally friendly solutions from their groceries and that includes packaging. Reducing the use of plastic in packaging is an important part of the food industry today, says Aaro Mäkimattila, Product Development Manager at Atria.
Thinner packaging saves thousands of kilograms of plastic
Here's how Atria aims to create more eco-friendly packaging solutions:
- Reducing the use of plastic
- Supporting the recyclability of packaging materials
- Developing and implementing bio-based packaging solutions
- Educating end users on how to recycle the packaging
– Everything we do aims at reducing our total emissions, says Mäkimattila.
In 2021, Atria reduced 45,000 kilograms of plastic from their packaging. All product groups in Finland are investigating possible solutions for further reduction.
– If all goes well, in 2022, we will have cut down 109,000 kilograms of plastic in total, says Marttala.
A single package design that is lighter by just 1,5 grams can save thousands and thousands of kilograms in plastic raw materials.
First bio-based packages already in use in Sweden
Atria is continuously looking for new, renewable raw materials that could replace fossil-based raw materials. A big leap was made in Sweden in 2022, when Atria launched new bio-based plastic packages for cold cuts.
– We will soon have more information on how the consumers have received the bio-based packages. In Finland, we are also looking into other possible uses for bio-based materials, and how any current or future packaging lines might be able to use them. We are also calculating the costs of bio-based solutions as well as possible savings in fossil-based plastic raw materials, Marttala explains.
Many bio-based packaging materials are developed by forestry companies, but Atria has a unique insight into the food safety and usability of the packaging.
– Bio-based packaging is a good thing as it can be used to replace fossil-based raw materials. But it is more expensive than the current plastic raw materials. We also need to consider how the consumers will react if the pricing of the product goes up because of the eco-friendlier packaging. It is a delicate balance — we need to educate the consumers as well, says Marttala.
Consumer demands also vary between countries. In Denmark, consumers view recyclable materials better than bio-based materials. That is why in Denmark, the focus is on improving recyclability and developing monomaterials. In Sweden, bio-based material is leading the development. In the near future, the use of bio-based packaging will expand to other market areas as well.
In Finland and Estonia, Atria has focused on making packaging thinner to reduce plastic, recently launching the vacuum-packed minced meat, which has become quite popular.
Preventing food waste has the biggest environmental impact
The environmental impact of the packages should always take into account the complete lifecycle of both the packaging and the product it is protecting. For the time being, plastic is the most environmentally friendly packaging material for many products.
Plastic packaging protects the product, keeps it fresh longer, thus cutting down on food waste, which actually has a far bigger environmental impact. So, while the main objective of packaging design is to reduce the carbon footprint by reducing plastic, using eco-friendly materials, and enabling recyclability, the most important task of the packaging should never be forgotten – it needs to protect the product.
– Usability and product safety are always the main drivers of development. Not everything can be packed in a thin wrap. The product needs to stay fresh for the packaging to be successful, reminds Marttala.