Less plastic, same performance

A simple package design that uses less plastic while increasing recyclability

The demands on food packaging are many. Ensuring food is physically protected, lasts longer, is attractive and communicates the necessary information has led to more complex packaging which can be difficult for consumers to separate and recycle. GEA has teamed up with materials and packaging specialists to develop simpler, more sustainable solutions for food manufacturers that are easier for consumers to recycle.

As a major global partner to the food industry, GEA is working shoulder-to-shoulder with key players in the fields of materials and packaging to find more sustainable solutions that not only meet consumer and safety demands but also increasing regulations around plastic consumption and recycling. Today we’re able to offer customers easier to recycle alternatives made from materials that are both easy to use and work seamlessly on our machines.

FoodTray: Next-generation packaging for fresh food

Launched in 2019, FoodTray is specifically designed to meet today’s packaging challenges, which includes reducing the amount of plastic used by up to 80% – a tough challenge given fresh foods have a relatively short shelf life. The solution is the result of the close-knit collaboration between GEA and leading flexible packaging solutions partner, allowing for testing and adapting of the materials under industrial conditions. The tray itself is constructed from cardboard which is made from renewable resources and lends the required structure and support for the food product inside. Barrier protection is provided by a thin sheet of film lining the bottom and the sides of the tray interior and the thin flex film used to seal the package; as part of the spot sealing process the lidding forms a seal between itself and the upper area of the interior tray film, both of which are made from recyclable plastic. The result: a more sustainable package with good product visibility, providing maximum food freshness and food safety. 

FoodTray packaging

Once emptied, it is easy to separate both films from the cardboard tray and then recycle both materials. “The removal of the interior film is possible because it is only sealed to the edges of the paper tray versus adhering to the entire length and width of the bottom of the tray. The ease with which the bottom film can be removed from the tray sets FoodTray apart from most other solutions available today,” explains Volker Sassmannshausen, Product Manager Thermoforming, GEA. 

FoodTray is especially designed for use with the updated GEA PowerPak PLUS thermoformer, and offers the following key benefits:

  • available in various sizes and printable on all surfaces
  • the cardboard can be made from 100% renewable resources, reducing plastic up to 80% in weight compared to conventional fresh food packaging
  • the lidding film provides a high-quality barrier following a custom MAP-packaging (Modified Atmosphere Package) operation
  • both paper and film (mono-material, PP-based), can enter their respective recycling streams
  • attractive to consumers in both look and feel 
  • meets increased recycling quotas for plastic packaging (e.g., German Packaging Act 2019)

“FoodTray represents a major step forward, enabling manufacturers to use much less plastic while still ensuring food safety. The risk of losing more food to waste, which increases CO2 emissions, is too great, which is another reason why this solution is so important.”

Volker Sassmannshausen

Product Manager Thermoforming, GEA

We’re going vertical

In cooperation with Sappi, a market leader in innovative package barrier and sealable papers, GEA has developed paper-based, vertical packaging solution for use with the new GEA SmartPacker TwinTube. Sourced from sustainably-managed forests, Sappi products have a high renewable resource content, replacing heat-sealing laminates. The new flexible solution allows customers to choose a functional paper grade based on their application and barrier requirements. Sappi Seal Silk, for example, offers the following capabilities and benefits:

  • coated paper exterior suitable for flexo and offset printing
  • dispersion on reverse side (pouch interior) delivers excellent heat-sealing results
  • suitable for multi-packs and foodstuffs requiring minimal barrier protection (e.g., singly packed sweets, oatmeal)
  • same high-quality result at the same machine speed as with plastic based films
  • attractive, natural look and feel

Because of the tremendously flexibility of the GEA SmartPacker TwinTube, more tests are planned with Sappi materials which offer minor barrier protection (sealing) or provide a medium waterproof-, mineral oil- or fat barrier.

Packaging win-wins for manufacturers, consumers, the recycling sector and the environment

Over the years, GEA’s food packaging teams have worked hard to reduce the amount of film used on our machines, while still ensuring packaging meets all required food and product safety requirements. For example, our machines work with thinner films, which greatly reduces plastic usage, as well as mono-materials, which are easier to recycle. We also offer thermoformable fiber-based material for use in MAP packs as well as fiber-based options for skin solutions.

Fighting food waste, one package at a time

Globally, about 30 percent of food is wasted or lost; that’s about 1.3 billion tons per year. Some is lost due to poorly designed or insufficient packaging. Foods with high inputs (labor, feed, fertilizer, water) such as meat, fish or cheese, have a larger carbon footprint; therefore, it’s critical that their packaging increases the chances that they will be consumed, even if more plastic is used in the process. Offering products in smaller portioned packages for 1-2 person households can also be a more ecological option given bulk foods and those in large packages often spoil before they can be consumed.

Packaging extends food shelf life, ensuring products are protected in transport, look appetizing and are safe to eat. The main enemies of food shelf life are:

  • microorganisms (mold and bacteria)
  • oxygen
  • moisture or steam
  • light
  • ethylene (ripening gasses from fruit and vegetables)
Fish packaging with GEA machines

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