Cadbury Schweppes is investigating consumer reactions to new biodegradable packaging in Australia, before deciding whether to replicate the technology in Europe. Rising consumer and governmental concerns are making it essential for businesses to explore environmentally friendly packaging alternatives.

Cadbury Schweppes is test marketing biodegradable trays for its Milk Tray chocolates sold in Australia. Made from a material developed by Plantic Technologies, the trays look like plastic but are made of a water-soluble cornstarch polymer. Plantic claims that the material is cosmetically indistinguishable from, or even superior to, petrochemical products but will cut down waste significantly as it dissolves upon contact with water. There have also been discussions about expanding the technology beyond Australia.

The innovation comes at a time when the volume of packaging waste and consumer concerns regarding it are both increasing. In the UK alone last year, the volume of packaging waste was 9.5 million tons, up 300,000 tons over the previous two years. Consumers are also increasingly expressing interest in environment friendly alternatives for almost all products, while lobbyists are constantly pushing for legislation to regulate packaging waste.

Companies other than Cadbury have begun to realise the importance of paying attention to these voices. Sainsbury’s has been giving customers a penny back every time they re-use a bag, while Tesco offers plastic-bag collection facilities at the door to its shops. Sainsbury’s has also taken it one step further: the company recently trialed a carrier bag made from tapioca starch in three English stores. The bag decomposes in domestic compost heaps or local authority composting schemes in as little as 28 days. The store has also introduced biodegradable packaging for its organics products, made from dried baked potato starch mixed with water and cellulose fibres.

In a few years, it may be that selling consumer goods in anything other than biodegradable packaging will be frowned upon in much the same way that selling animal tested cosmetics is now. As consumer concerns grow, CPG companies could make gains from being the first to offer such environmentally friendly products. Conversely, those that do not pick up on the trend may find their sales depressed.
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