The food industry assesses its material efficiency: less plastic is used in packaging materials

The food industry’s material efficiency project brought cost savings of 17 million euros to companies and reduced the amount of plastic in packaging by more than 1.2 million kilograms.

By Elina Venesmäki

Photo Vilja Harala

The first period of commitment to improve material efficiency in the food industry led to cost savings of 17 million euros for companies. The amount of food waste dropped by more than 10 million kilograms, and the overall reduction in the amount of waste was more than 25 million kilograms.

Aki Finér, Director of the Circular Economy business area at Motiva, has reason to be pleased.
“The companies that signed up to the commitment have reduced food waste and general waste and also improved their waste recycling. Companies have achieved significant cost savings,” he says.

Less plastic in packaging

In terms of material efficiency of packaging, measures taken by the food industry and the grocery sector have focused on reducing and optimising the use of plastics in packaging. The amount of plastic has decreased by more than 1.2 million kilograms.

The amount of plastic used has been reduced by making packaging materials that are lighter or thinner and by replacing plastics with bio-based materials. Companies have also been using transport packaging made of recycled plastic and have sent plastics to be reused in grocery products.

Similarly, less plastic is used in yoghurt containers.

Measures that improve the material efficiency of packaging also have an impact on the amount of mixed waste and waste used in energy production that the grocery sector and consumers generate, which has also decreased by more than 1.2 million kilograms.

Changes have already been obvious in ordinary supermarkets: meat, for example, now comes in different packaging. Similarly, less plastic is used in yoghurt containers, and this packaging can be recycled separately with plastic and cardboard waste.

New revenue for the grocery sector

In addition to cost savings, the commitment to material efficiency also aims to reduce environmental impacts and to create more revenue in the entire grocery sector.
“We want the industry to remain profitable,” says Finér.

Companies have also improved their order-delivery chains to ensure that shops order enough, but not too much, stock.

Packaging is now easier to recycle, and the amount of black plastic in packaging has decreased. Black plastic can’t be recycled because the sorting machines can’t recognise it.

“Shops also strive to reduce food waste by selling products at discounted price, which consumers are sure to notice when they do their shopping,” says Finér.

The best way forward is to be prepared

The reforms mean savings for companies that pack products but they are also a way to prepare for the changes that will have to be made soon. It’s best to be a trailblazer and to make them before they are required.

“I’ve noticed that packaging now has clearer instructions on how it should be recycled,” says Finér.

The ministries and industry organisations have launched a new five-year commitment period that lasts until 2026.

Packaging is also easier to recycle as it’s less common to use a mixture of different materials in packaging.

The results of the first period of the commitment to material efficiency have been so encouraging that the ministries and industry organisations have launched a new five-year commitment period that lasts until 2026. The tourism and restaurant industry has also joined in.

Activities that improve material efficiency under the commitment could also be adapted by other industries as a voluntary commitment to support their profitability and responsibility efforts.


The food industry’s first period of commitment to material efficiency

  • The period covered the period from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2021.
  • The aim was for food companies to become more profitable and sustainable and to raise awareness in the grocery sector and among consumers of the opportunities and measures to improve material efficiency.
  • The measures to achieve the objectives included improving material efficiency in the various processes, reducing food waste in the supply chain, improving the material efficiency of packaging, increasing the volume of recycled waste and selecting better materials for packaging and products.
  • The parties to the commitment were the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of the Environment and the Finnish Food and Drink Industries’ Federation, the Finnish Grocery Trade Association and the Finnish Packaging Association. The Finnish state’s sustainable development company, Motiva, acted as a unifying force and as a help desk that supported companies, industry associations and ministries.
  • The commitment was signed by 17 companies in the food industry, including the largest operators in the grocery trade, such as Kesko, the S Group and Lidl. Members of the Finnish Packaging Association were also involved in the commitment.