According to a new report by Visiongain, the global food packaging industry will reach close to $258 billion this year. With more and more focus given to sustainable food packing, the industry is definitely poised for major change.

Every step of the way, from the supply chain to the branding process, the focus has to be on meeting the functional and economic goals of production and profit without leaving behind carbon footprints. Sustainable packaging looks for viable methods without compromising the future of our environment.

Intensive research on packaging is focused on all aspects of the industry and continues through its entire life cycle, from the design and materials procurement to processing and supplying to the markets. More research is focusing on discovering alternative and biodegradable packaging options that are also economically viable. In cases where research has revealed promising options, the relevant authorities have also stepped in to help.

A recent example of this is the USDA's grant of $300,000 to the scientists of Virginia State University to back their nanotechnology-based research toward production of low-carbon-footprint packaging. Now the researchers have sufficient funds to pursue and improve on the use of starch-based biopolymers for thin pack films, and to apply the natural antimicrobial properties of vegetables to improve shelf life of sealed food once sealed.

The scientists are hard at work to devise ways where both these properties can be applied to create fully biodegradable nanocomposite food packaging for meat. If they succeed, we will have fresh food in sealed packs for longer time and without the use of harmful metallic antimicrobial nanomaterials.

This year has already shown promise with packaging giants like Rapak announcing the launch of its latest innovative sustainable packaging option. Rapak's new sustainable and recyclable plastic for bag-in-box packaging is a high-barrier plastic that will completely replace the metalized films and nylon resins bag. These will be used to deliver oxygen-sensitive food and drinks without compromising their quality or endangering the environment.

2014 is not just looking at new ideas to flooding the market, but also real and actionable experiments waiting to bring in the next big wave of change. The dilemma and dichotomy over sustainability and profitability is now a thing of the past. Sustainability is now the intrinsic responsibility of every packaging player who wishes to have a future.

According to Frost and Sullivan, sustainability and green practices will drive many industries in 2014, including packaging. What we will see is the rise of flexible packaging with increased focus on sustainability, acquiring and adoption of materials from renewable sources. The stress will obviously be more on food and beverage packaging, which takes up the lion's share of the industry.

Related industry developments will also include more focus on lightweight materials, which will include biodegradable composites and plastics, bio-based materials, and water and wastewater treatment chemicals, along with functional food ingredients to complement these packaging efforts.

It is clear that the industry is going through a phase of rapid and far-reaching changes, which is in turn having a ripple effect in related industries. A 2011 report by MarketsandMarkets states that just the active and smart packaging market for the food and beverage industry will be around $23.474 billion by 2015.

Studying the technology applications in sustainable and smart packaging, the report provides a clear picture of the changes and how they are going to impact growth in the new era. Multipurpose and flexi-packaging will go hand in hand with recyclable, biodegradable and plant-based packaging to deal with waste challenge.

Further biotechnical innovation is on the way with research focused on synthetic biological materials for smart containers, which could also have self-cleaning and repairing properties.

Plant-based plastics are slated to be the next big thing for the packaging industry, and giants like Nike and Coca-Cola are already investing on efficient production of plastics from renewable sources. According to the Packaging Digest, this trend will go hand in hand with greener coffee pods that are more ecofriendly and can be easily recycled.