Reducing food and packaging waste
By Lynneric Potter - 3 January 2012
There is much talk about reducing food and packaging waste, and many companies have on-going programmes to look at this issue. However, the definition of waste is quite specific, and many of the packaging initiatives in place are more about usage reduction and cost savings than waste reduction - although clearly the less material that is used, the less that needs to be recycled or put to waste.
A recent seminar at Campden BRI (Reduction of food and packaging waste) also showed how packaging (even 'extra' packaging) can prevent food waste. Importantly, however, getting existing packaging and packing operations to function correctly is vital to prevent food waste. It is has been suggested that nearly a third of food is wasted, and about half of this is before it reaches the consumer. These are headline generalisations, but whatever the exact figures, this is clearly too much.
From a commercial point of view, packaging that has successfully fulfilled its purpose has not been wasted. In fact, it will have helped to prevent waste. If you consider the time and effort invested in manufacturing a food product, it is a relatively small price to pay to get the packaging right so that the product can be consumed as intended. The environmental price is also small compared with that paid to grow, transport and manufacture the food in the first place. This should be a relatively easy 'hit' compared with reducing packaging use. However, if you can achieve the latter without compromising the food, it clearly will have economic benefits and, in broad terms, environmental benefits – with less raw material and energy being used in the production and transport of the packaging, and a reduced 'packaging waste' problem after use.
There is now quite tough legislation on the disposal of packaging waste. Companies are thinking hard about how they recycle and/or reuse the packaging they produce or use. Disposal is also the most visible of the food and packaging waste issues in the eyes of consumers. Explaining to consumers how important, environmentally, your packaging is can be difficult, as it seems counter-intuitive. This means that increasing packaging to reduce food waste without looking at disposal issues is neither legally nor commercially an option.
In summary, make sure your packaging (and associated packing operations) does its job effectively - that it is optimal for 'preserving' food in a suitable state. Look at ways to reduce the amount of packaging used, and/or modify it to improve the preservation of the food. And do all this with an eye on the legislation and the recycling and/or reuse of the packaging. There is no shortage of technical support for brainstorming new options or testing the effectiveness of different approaches.
Lynneric Potter is a food packaging specialist within the Department of Food Manufacturing Technologies at Campden BRI where she has worked since 1999. Lynneric’s main activities involve consultancy and testing of packaging materials to ensure they are fit for purpose.