Food manufacturers and retailers that want to drive forward innovative design, use, and reduction of plastic packaging face several challenges. In a policy brief published on June 10, 2021, by the ISOEInstitute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, scientists of the research group PlastX provide guidance towards sustainable food packaging materials. The authors outline three major recommendations for action:

  1. Reduce single-use packaging. Consider the technical, practical, and logistical requirements packaging needs to fulfill. In addition, the packaging’s function as an information and advertising medium can reveal options to avoid packaging.
  2. If packaging cannot be avoided, use packaging options with lower impacts. This can include returnable or refillable systems as well as incorporating recyclable materials, but according to the authors biodegradable plastics at their current stage are neither recyclable nor ecologically advantageous. By implementing extended material testing, packaging manufacturers can prevent chemical migration from their packaging into the food.
  3. Fundamental innovations in companies’ day-to-day routines are needed. Besides technological innovation, changes on the organizational level are key. Resources and commitment of the company are essential to support that aim.

The policy brief further outlines examples of the status-quo along with specific improvement potentials for a product’s individual presentation, supply chain logistics, and visual presentation within the retail location. It also discusses and suggests improvements that can be made to the use of life cycle assessments (LCAs), reuse, recycling, bio-based materials, and chemical safety. A set of external resources that provide further information and guidance are included.



Sattlegger, L., Heider, T., Zimmermann, L., Völker, C. (2021): “Lebensmittelverpackungen – nachhaltig. Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Gestaltung und Vermeidung von Verpackungen.“ ISOE Policy Brief Nr. 8. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE – Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung (in German) (pdf)

Read more

ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research. Press release (2021). “ISOE Policy Brief – Kunststoffverpackungen nachhaltig gestalten.“ (published online June 10, 2021, in German)

Sattlegger, L. (2020). “Making Food Manageable – Packaging as a Code of Practice for Work Practices at the Supermarket.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 50, 3, 341-367

Haider et al. (2019). “Plastics of the future? The impact of biodegradable polymers on the environment and on society.” Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 58, 1, 50-62

PlastX (2021). “