Can Packaging Help Reduce Food Waste?

(3BL Media/Justmeans)  -  Fact: humanity wastes a huge amount of food and this need to change. According to the USDA, in the U.S. alone approximately 2.7 billion pounds of meat, poultry and fish are lost, totaling $8.8 billion.

With all that food, huge amounts of resources are also wasted. When we remember that to make one pound of beef it takes more than 600 gallons of water, 1.8 pounds of grain and 50 pounds of CO2, we get an idea of how devastating food waste is.

It is a major, very complex issue and there is not one single solution for it. For one, the problem varies in different parts of the world. In developing countries, for example, food loss concentrates on post-harvest and processing while in industrialized countries, loss takes place mostly at the retail and consumer levels. Therefore, strategies for each case will vary, although new consumer habits, lifestyles and forms of delivery are taking place in both scenarios.

Recently, a team of experts on the topic convened in New York City to discuss the many solutions to this massive problem. Farmers, chefs, environmentalists, politicians, writers and food industry experts took part of the Food Tank Summit NYC, including Sealed Air Food Care president Karl Deily. He spoke about the topic of packaging as one of the possible solutions for food waste.

The talk was livestreamed via Facebook Live, with many online and physical participants discussing why packaging can have a positive effect towards reducing waste, an idea that strike many as counter-intuitive, but which makes sense when we take a closer look at it.

Deily argues that good, smart packaging can ensure food arrives at the consumer table before it goes off. Once it has reached the consumer, efficient, smart packaging will preserve the food for longer and more likely prevent it from being wasted.

Deily and his peers in the packaging industry highlight that consumers tend to notice the packaging that is wasted rather than the content the packaging carries. However, wasted food has more lost resources embedded in it than packaging.  

He argues that consumer education and sustainable packaging are two components of a strategy against food waste. Deily is echoed by Professor Keith Warriner, of the University of Guelph’s food science department. He said during this webinar that “packaging role is to provide an efficient way to extend the shelf life of packaged foods using active and intelligent packaging.” The latter refers to packaging that can sense the environment and react to changing conditions of the packaged food.

That sort of smart packaging gives us a hint of the innovations already available and many more to come. We already have vacuum skin that virtually doubles shelf life. Elsewhere, barrier bags fully protect content from oxygen and moisture while modified-atmosphere packaging (used for fresh or minimally processed food types) can also help deliver high-quality food and keep it safe for consumption.

Other aspects to take into account is the growing demand for smaller portions from smaller households and single people living on their own. The growing amount of food ordered via e-commerce also requires novel packaging solutions to protect it during delivery.

With all these factors in mind, and the complex picture that presents itself when we think more deeply about it, food packaging does seem to have a big role to play in reducing food waste. We are likely to see many exciting developments in this field as the industry responds with new technologies to changing consumer habits and expectations, helping retailers tackle the problem of food loss and consequently improve their bottom lines.

Image credit: Sealed Air Food Care