Food waste is one of the biggest problems society is currently facing. Not only is it draining our economy, but it is also one of the most serious environmental issues we have ever seen. The causes of food waste are numerous and can be complex. Today we will explore one that most of us interact with every day: food packaging.
Food packaging is responsible for a big percentage of wasted food. Namely, some of the food spoils before consumers even buy it, while some of it never reaches retailers in the first place. Poor packaging practices can be to blame in both cases. Many organizations, led by the zero waste movement, are trying to raise awareness of this.
How exactly does food packaging aid food waste, and what can we do to fix the situation? Read on to find out.
The Problem of Food Waste
Food waste is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The food left to decompose in landfills emits methane, a gas that is over 20 times stronger than CO2. Methane traps heat in the air and thus makes the temperature higher, directly aiding climate change.
Moreover, excessive food production requires excessive use of natural resources, especially water. Additionally, food waste is one of the main causes of deforestation in the modern world. We cut down trees to make room for more landfills for wasted food and endanger both animals and ourselves.
Apart from being a big ecological problem, food waste is also an economical issue. The US loses around $240 billion every year because of wasted food alone. These numbers are even more worrisome globally, as the losses are estimated in trillions of dollars. And yet, hundreds of millions of people around the world have no access to food and are undernourished. That unbalance is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
How Does Food Packaging Cause Food Waste?
Food packaging plays a vital role in protecting and containing food as it travels through the supply chain on its way to the customer. Additionally, packaging can either extend or shorten the shelf life of certain products. Thus, when food packaging is faulty or inadequate, the food goes to waste easily.
Around 40% of food becomes waste before it even reaches the supermarket shelves or our kitchens. Most of it is either badly packaged or not packaged at all. Both instances lead to fruits, vegetables, meat, condiments, and dairy products spoiling on their way to us.
Badly packaged products include those in packages that are too big or too small for them. Additionally, they include foods packed in packages made of unsuitable materials. Products with no packages are just as big of a problem.
Food Waste Caused by a Lack of Packing
A lot of companies and food producers are trying out zero packaging to reduce the amount of plastic they use. While their cause is noble, truly "zero" packaging is not possible for every type of food. Fresh foods, especially vegetables and fruits, have to come in some sort of a package. Otherwise, they start spoiling as soon as producers put them in trucks for transport. By the time they get to their destinations, they are ruined.
Plastic is a big environmental problem. However, studies show that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by food waste are higher than those caused by plastic packaging. Thus, not packaging food to reduce plastic waste can only bring about bigger problems...it is a real conundrum!
Food Waste Caused by Packaging Size, Material, or Design
On the other hand, certain foods have packages that are either too small or too big for them. The extra room the food has in bigger packages leads to it moving around in transport, eventually spoiling altogether.
Food put into packages that are too small isn’t much better off. These products don’t get enough air, they stick to the packages easily, and start spoiling pretty much as soon as they are packaged.
Condiments often come in containers unsuitable for their texture. They stick to the sides and bottoms of the containers and loose their density. This change shortens their shelf life, and retailers then have to throw them away.
How Smart Packaging Can Help Reduce Food Waste
New regulations on what foods require which kinds of packaging are necessary. That way, manufacturers would have clear instructions on how to package food in the most sustainable and eco-friendly manner. That would, in turn, lead to less food going to waste.
Smart packaging would also ensure that producers make containers that are meant for a single person. Such a practice would mean that we would open a product and eat it in one sitting, without any leftovers. In theory, that should reduce food waste by around 20% as packages that contain too much food often get thrown away.
The problem small packaging poses is that it requires the use of more plastic. Thus, we need to figure out what causes more harm to the environment: plastic or food waste. This tradeoff will be detrimental in finding the best solution for both food waste and the problem of plastic pollution.
Food waste is one of our most serious global issues, and food packaging can be a big ally in the fight. We need improvements in sustainable material science and substantial change when it comes to food packaging regulations for things to change.