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By 2050, the global population is expected to grow by more than 25%, increasing the demand for food. But food systems today account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and still one third of all food produced is lost or wasted.

As an industry, we need to work together across the value chain, and take collective actions that can help decarbonize and transform the world’s food systems, while contributing to circularity and increasing food packaging recycling.

While this may seem daunting, the beverage industry has already made strides towards a more sustainable future, with even the smallest part of a package — caps and straws — playing an important role.

Not only can nature-based solutions play an important role in solving the world’s sustainability challenges, but they can also meet changing consumer demands. A recent McKinsey & Company survey found that approximately half of U.S. consumers express a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging, making an investment into sustainable packaging a sound business decision.

A cap made from plants

A plant-based plastic cap is one way to minimize the carbon footprint of packaging when used in place of a traditional plastic cap. But what does “plant-based” mean in this context?

Food and beverage packaging can be derived from plant-based materials like sugarcane, which are renewable if responsibly sourced. When this is the case, it can reduce the packaging’s carbon footprint compared to that of traditional packaging materials, such as plastics derived from fossil fuels.

Sugarcane is a dense, water efficient and productive plant. And, like any other plant, sugarcane captures CO2 when it grows.

The production of 200,000 tons of sugarcane-based plastic represents a reduction of 800,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This equals the amount of annual emissions from 800,000 cars*.

While there are many misperceptions about plant-based materials, plant-based plastics are durable, safe and recyclable, when sourced responsibly.

It’s important to verify that the plant-based material a company uses for packaging is reputable. One way to do that is to ensure that the sugarcane used is Bonsucro Chain of Custody certified. The Chain of Custody (ChoC) Standard relates to the supply of a product, including all stages from feedstock production up to consumption. It’s proof that you’re sourcing and trading responsibly, allowing you to make sustainability claims about your sugarcane sourcing.

It provides assurance that sustainability claims can be tracked along the supply chain, from end to origin, demonstrating responsible sourcing and ethical trading.

The straw of the future

At the end of the day, creating a positive drinking experience is paramount for all beverage brands. One way to do that is to include drinking straws as part of the packaging. Paper straws can help address consumer preferences for sustainability and changes in regulations without compromising food safety — while delivering a satisfying user experience. The paper straws of the future are nothing like their predecessors. They’re not a one size only option anymore. In fact, today you can choose from a variety of shapes and sizes, including U-shaped and telescopic paper straws, which can fit a variety of portion-sized beverage cartons making them recyclable with the rest of a package.

Additionally, an expansion into offering paper straws can further the use of renewable and low carbon materials across a range of packaging solutions.

Making the switch to plant-based caps and paper straws is one way to address a broad range of customer sustainability needs without compromising on food safety or the end-user drinking experience. Providing customers with innovative products that also meet the rapidly changing demands of society is one way manufacturers can achieve ambitions in three essential areas — food safety, food waste and the environment — while setting your business, and the planet, up for success in the future.

*Source: 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Emissions. Brazilian Governmental Ministry of Science and Technology — Nations Climate Change Project.