Is sustainable candy packaging now easier to source?

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/mcKensa
Image: Getty/mcKensa

Related tags Packaging Packaging and labeling Recycling Sustainability Candy Chocolate Plastic

Unwrapping the push for plastic-free packaging as one manufacturer launches a paper-only alternative

Plastic including plastic-based coatings are common materials in confectionery packaging, making up almost two-thirds of product launches​, Innova Market Insights reveals.

Researchers have found​ that only 9% of the globe’s plastic waste is recycled. Without recyclability, 79% of these products end up in landfill or the wider natural environment, while around 12% are incinerated, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states​. Alongside fishing equipment, single-use plastic items on European beaches make up 70% of all marine litter in the European Union (EU), The European Commission​ finds. Food packaging, including confectionery wrappers, packets and containers, are among the top ten most commonly found single-use plastic items.

The UNDP recommends various measures throughout the plastic lifecycle that manufacturers can adopt to tackle plastic pollution. These include reducing the use of inessential plastics, stopping the production and consumption of inessential single-use plastics and implementing extended producer responsibility​ (EPR).

With consumers and regulators demanding more sustainable options, including the Single-Use Plastics Directive​ (SUPD) in the EU, confectionery manufacturers are developing new sustainable packaging solutions free from plastics. EcoTwistPaper is one of these, taking plastic out of packaging and replacing it with paper.

Swapping plastics for paper

On June 12 2024, Austrian packaging manufacturer Constantia Flexibles unveiled its latest paper packaging for confectionery products. Its EcoTwistPaper design aims to provide sweet creators with a sustainable solution that avoids plastic and its accompanying environmental impact.

The brand’s innovation is a wax-free twist-wrap made entirely from paper, which can be fully recycled, unlike plastic. “It is free of waxes and plastic coatings, ensuring it does not negatively impact the recycling process,” says Frank Eger, product manager.

Sustainable packaging is a growing priority for manufacturers. However, to prove a practical alternative to existing plastic-based options, sustainable packaging needs to protect the sweet treats inside and wrap them fully and effectively. Products undergo varying temperatures and conditions as they travel along the supply chain. As they are transported from factory to retailer, it is vital confectionery goods maintain their quality.

Part of Constantia Flexibles’ research and development (R&D) phase was ensuring EcoTwistPaper provides adequate product protection and effective wrapping properties.

GettyImages-1199683640-optimized
Without recyclability, 79% of confectionery packaging ends up in landfill. Image: Getty/AzmanL

Producing paper-based packaging

Constantia Flexibles faced challenges making confectionery packaging with paper rather than plastics. “We had to adjust the twist settings on the packaging machine to accommodate the slightly thicker paper material without overstretching it,” says Eger. After making some modifications, the machine settings worked well, and the packaging producer applied its findings to its twist machines.

Constantia Flexibles applied various advanced mechanical treatments to create a soft paper material, which is considered an ideal design and texture for wrapping candies and chocolates meaning producers can use EcoTwistPaper with their existing machinery.

Candy and chocolates come in various shapes. To produce packaging that can house various-shaped sweets, the company “explored ways to make the paper less stiff so it could wrap smoothly around products, adapting to exactly that variety of shapes,” says Eger. “After extensive trials, we achieved this through mechanical treatment.”

Manufacturers’ excess material that has not made its way into product packaging can be recycled in the paper stream. The new material has no size limit when collected in the paper waste stream, which helps EcoTwistPaper provide brands with a unique, sustainable packaging offer.

How sustainable is paper packaging?

EcoTwistPaper does not contain plastic coatings and is produced using only paper materials. “It eliminates the need for a plastic layer, meaning it is not subject to the EU’s SUPD,” Eger confirms. As a result, it avoids additional plastic taxes, which can reach up to €2.30 per 1,000 pieces in the Netherlands. “This is unique.”

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) has tested EcoTwistPaper for its repulpability capabilities. The new packaging’s printed material scored 90 out of 100. CEPI based its score on the packaging material being made entirely from paper. “The printed decoration achieves an impressive recycling score of around 90 – a fantastic recycling result,” Eger says.

In 2023, Constantia Flexibles was rated Level A by Climate Change Leadership (CDP)​ and Gold by EcoVadis​. To receive an A score from CDP, companies need to show environmental leadership through an international framework and share their actions to address climate change, deforestation or water security. EcoVardis gives a gold award to the top 5% of companies within its database based on the quality of a company’s sustainability management system.

Testing how recyclable a material is

Today’s packaging needs to comply with the European Directive 2018/852/EU on packaging and packaging waste. ​Packaging also needs to be recoverable at the end of its life, which is measured using a classification system set out in another European Directive 2018/851/EU​.

Paper and cardboard that are difficult to reuse can go to a materials recycling channel, which checks how recyclable they are. These packaging recyclability checks are defined under the EN13430 standard​, which states that packaging must be checked against two criteria.

Firstly, the packaging’s composition is checked to see if it contains at least 50% paper-cardboard by weight and how this compares with the manufacturing data sheet provided with the product. Secondly, the packaging material is assessed for how well it can be recycled. Repulpability testing takes place at this stage to verify how well a packaging material performs when it is re-wetted, how the product disintegrates and how its fibres disperse.

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