Food waste is back in the headlines again. Following the release of a key study from European statistical office Eurostat, we want 2023 to be the year when the packaging industry finally gets to grips with the food waste crisis.
The study found that 127kg of food per person was wasted every year in Europe, with households accounting for 55% of that waste, equating to 70kg per household on average. The other 45% was generated throughout the supply chain, including through the manufacture, processing, and distribution of food products.
According to the latest progress report from WRAP, there is some light at the end of the tunnel in the UK at least, as food waste has fallen by 8% – around 19,000 tonnes – in three years. We’re heading in the right direction, but still moving too slowly. As supply chains continue to strain, prices continue to increase, and the planet continues to heat up, we need to do much more if we’re to make a real impact on food waste.
Why is food waste so important?
When you read a news story about sustainability, it’s often accompanied by striking imagery of a landfill piled high with waste or plastic bags floating in the ocean. This supports a general narrative that plastic packaging is a cause of, not a solution to, the climate crisis. While there is absolutely some truth to this, and the packaging industry does need to do more to reduce its reliance on plastics, this can tend to overshadow the effect of food waste on our environment.
WRAP data shows that food production and consumption are responsible for around 30% of global CO2 emissions. At the same time, it is an incredible drain on the Earth’s resources – between 60-80% of biodiversity loss stems from the destruction of natural habitats that takes place to clear space for agriculture. 70% of global freshwater is consumed in agriculture, while eight in ten countries that the UK sources fruit and veg from are prone to drought.
And, at a time when weekly food shops cost more than they ever have due to inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally don’t just have a carbon cost – there is a huge financial cost, too.
The economic case adds a compelling layer to the already strong environmental case to cut food waste. It means 2023 is the year everyone – from individual consumers to businesses to governments – has to commit to cutting the amount of food we all waste every year.
The role of packaging in cutting food waste
While it has played the role of villain in many stories around sustainability, packaging has the potential to be the unsung hero in the fight against food waste. Packaging’s primary purpose is to prevent waste by protecting and preserving products through the supply chain, meaning it has one of the loudest voices in discussions around food waste.
At the moment, plastic’s utility and low cost mean it is still the go-to material for many food packaging applications. The various polymers on the market can be used to add barrier performance, heat sealability, and durability to packaging solutions. But there’s no hiding from the fact that a lack of recycling infrastructure and issues around food contamination mean plastic packaging often becomes waste itself – either when incinerated or in landfill – and so the drive to create innovative new substrates is vital.
This has to be done progressively, not all at once. It is impossible to simply eliminate plastics with a snap of the fingers. The consequences of doing this can be seen in India, where the government banned single-use plastic without an adequate waste management system in place, and without establishing an alternative material that offers an equivalent level of performance for every application. As a result, the ban has had next to no effect, with no drop in the use of single-use plastics in the country and no penalties issued for those breaking the new law.
To make real, lasting change, the packaging industry must look to reduce plastic where possible without compromising the performance of a pack. If lawmakers, businesses, and consumers can all embrace this nuanced holistic view of packaging, rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach towards plastics, we can make crucial progress in combating food waste and climate change.
What we’re doing about it
At Parkside, we’ll continue to innovate in our drive to develop new, sustainable materials that can be used to reduce our reliance on plastics, while still offering the performance required across a range of applications. Under our Sustainable 7 guiding principles, we make sure every project we work on is built on seven pillars, including food waste reduction, material reduction (through lightweighting and so on), material replacement, and recyclability.
Our award-winning recyclable freezer-ready pouches use a paper-based material coated in a series of water-based barriers to repel ice crystals and make each pack suitable for the rigours of a hectic packing and filling operation.
We’ve also developed a metallised PP laminate that uses an aluminium vapour deposition onto the PP material without compromising its recyclability. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, through this kind of innovation, the industry can develop a broader toolkit to help fix this problem.
Ultimately, the packaging industry must be treated as part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem. If you’d like to become part of the solution as well, using sustainable flexible packaging to reduce both food and packaging waste, get in touch with us today by clicking here.