Globally, the issue of food waste is surging to the forefront and continuing to gain public and media attention – and for good reason.
With significant macro-effects associated with waste of foodstuffs, including environmental, economic, and humanitarian consequences, this challenge will only become more critical as time passes and populations expand. The problems resulting from food waste are alarming, and the need to combat this escalating issue is especially prevalent in developed nations, where almost half of food waste is derived from preventable losses by consumers and retail brands.
While it can be difficult to quantify precisely, many studies have suggested that around 20-40% of food produced worldwide goes to waste, which is an alarming statistic by any measure. Considering that the United Nations (UN) believes about 6bn metric tons of edible food is made every year, this equates to around 1.3bn metric tons being wasted.
As the figures are worryingly high, it provides the packaging industry with an opportunity to tackle this problem head-on by invigorating new product development and innovating in packaging substrate and design, in order to make a tangible difference to the problem. By building knowledge and sharing insight when it comes to the food waste problem, the industry has greater clarity on the packaging technologies and solutions required to combat the challenge, and in turn, associated economic losses, CO2 emissions and food shortages.
An appetite for change
Food waste is a much broader issue than many people think and ultimately touches everyone in some form or another. Shifting consumer habits and purchase behaviours are now being influenced by factors such cost, environmental responsibility and ethical sourcing. For brand owners, this demands a more holistic approach to supply chain strategy, to ensure packaging is tackling the challenge rather than exacerbating it.
In humanitarian terms, millions of people worldwide continue to go hungry every day, yet thousands of tons of food are still thrown away and destroyed every day. This startling notion is only compounded by United Nations research, which shows that just a quarter of all food wasted across the world would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people.
The problem is not just humanitarian. Environmentally, food waste is having a significantly damaging effect on the planet. In the UK, around 19% of material ending up at landfills is food waste, which produces harmful greenhouse gases as it breaks down. Combined globally, this waste produces 3.3bn metric tons of emissions.
The effects of food waste also carry significantly high economic costs for EU nations estimated to be around €143 billion per year – valuable resources that could be spent protecting the environment.
However, the good news is that there is a desire from consumers to combat the issue. A study from Frontiers found that 47% of consumers are willing to take additional action to reduce food waste, and 80% believed it would not be difficult to reduce their household food waste. Combine this increasing enthusiasm with the spiralling demand for flexible packaging and we have a potentially ideal solution to a growing problem.
Flexible Education and Solutions
So, what can the packaging industry do to accelerate the pace of change? Brand owners, packaging suppliers and printers must continue educating the consumer on the benefits of flexible packaging to realise that despite its common vilification in the media, it’s part of the solution to food waste, not the problem.
To accomplish this, we must promote the significant role packaging plays in protecting food from damage and spoilage, extending the product’s shelf life and ultimately reducing the amount that ends up in landfill. Boiled down to the simplest terms, packaging protects food products and helps to reduce waste.
Safety and quality remain high on the list of priorities for consumers, which means that no matter the innovative material technologies used, packaging cannot afford to make concessions in quality or performance. Any compromise here results in typically discarded products – further adding to the food waste issue.
Safe packaging solutions, such as the resealable lidding films available from Parkside, protect the product and provide the consumer with peace of mind that it has maintained full integrity through its lifespan and enables shoppers to reseal the packaging and maintain freshness.
Portion control is also vital to combatting food waste – and flexible packaging can play a key role. Packaging designs that allow for flexibility in quantity and portioning effectively save leftovers for future use. By doing so, brands ensure that consumers can buy in the quantities they need, and conserve as much residual product as possible, all of which serves to further reduce the food waste problem.
Due to the global scale of the issue, it is clear that it will be challenging to eradicate food waste altogether, at least in the short term. It’s likely to be addressed in smaller steps as opposed to mass change – ‘evolution, not revolution’.
It is essential to provide packaging solutions that help recycle food waste for a secondary purpose in some instances. Many countries are now composting their food waste and using it as fertiliser for crops. During this process, many pieces of packaging can seep through the process chain and end up in the compost. Packaging designed to be compostable is one great route to mitigating this risk.
The Park2NatureTM range of solutions from Parkside is a fantastic example of how this can be achieved without harming performance. The range of compostable flexible packaging solutions can be composted with the food waste and leave no harmful toxins in the resulting environment and fertiliser. These packaging solutions provide a great alternative to plastics and help ‘farm to fork’ become ‘fork to farm’, all while supporting a strong sustainable brand narrative.
Driving forward momentum
So, what is the Parkside message to brands, retailers and their supply chains? It’s simple. As an industry, it is important that we all contribute to the fight against food waste by providing fit-for-purpose packaging that is sustainable in design and enables the reduction of food waste.
In tandem with better consumer education and understanding of the true role of packaging, taking more time to explain the many ways that packaging protects the environment, we can show that it’s not the villain it is so often made out to be in modern media discourse.
Looking for a way to drive greater sustainability and brand equity through your packaging decisions, all while tackling the challenge of food waste? Speak to the Parkside team today to discover how ‘green’ innovation can be simple – and truly value-adding.
For more information, please visit parksideflex.com.