Food Waste – Can Packaging Solve the Problem?

Posted on 6/19/2013 11:17:38 AM By Jeff Timm

At the recent Adhesives & Sealant Council (ASC) Spring Convention, Atlanta, GA I presented a paper on Game-changing Trends in the Packaging Market.   One of the game-changing trends discussed was the relatively new focus placed on the role of packaging to prevent food waste and the connection to sustainability within the broader concept of zero waste.  

food waste, packaging, EPA, FAO

Food waste in the United States is a problem with 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never making it into a person’s stomach. The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008.  Ninety million tonnes of food is wasted annually in Europe.  About a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally - around 1.3 billion tons per year, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  As hunger is a major problem in many countries, this waste is an atrocity.

Food waste in industrialized countries is as high as in developing countries:

  • In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing;
  • In industrialized countries, over 40% occurs at the retail and consumer level.

According to the U. S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) food waste is the largest segment of waste going to municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills.  In 2011 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 4% diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting

The EPA provides the following benefits to reduce and prevent food waste:

  • Cut Down Disposal Costs - By decreasing the amount of food wasted, businesses pay less to dispose of their trash.
  • Reduce Over-Purchasing and Labor Costs - In making strides to prevent food waste, one can reduce costs by purchasing only the food that will be used, or by decreasing improperly prepared foods. Additionally, reducing food waste can increase staff efficiency and reduce energy and labor associated with disposing of food.
  • Reduce Resource Use Associated with Food Production - There are many inputs to grow food, including water, fertilizers, pesticides, and energy. By wasting food, the resources that went into growing it are wasted.  Additionally, 14 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States are associated with growing, manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of food.
  • Reduce Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions - Less food being wasted means less food being composted or landfilled; landfilled food produces methane, a very potent green house gas.

The packaging industry is bringing attention to reducing food waste and Dupont reiterates this by the Dupont Awards for Packaging Innovation.  In this their 25th year the awards “recognize break-throughs that reduce food waste, a pressing global need”.  The Dupont awards are the most prestigious awards given in the packaging industry.

Additionally, on June 4, 2013 the EPA and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, inviting producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies to join in efforts to:  

  • Reduce food loss and waste
  • Recover wholesome food for human consumption
  • Recycle for other uses including animal feed, composting, biomass feedstock for bio-products and energy generation

We can all agree that food waste is a huge global problem.  But it certainly is not new.  Why all the attention now?  Could it be that with all the transparency and focus on packaging in the marketplace – sustainability, reduction, elimination, litter, bans, etc. the industry needs to toot its own horn occasionally?  What better way than to tout the benefits of a well designed package as a viable but partial solution to the food waste problem.

The reasons for food waste are varied, but proper packaging can cut down on spoilage and extend the shelf life of products of all types.  Better barrier properties that prevent moisture and oxygen permeation, smart sensors and labels that give spoilage, temperature or a change of condition indication and biodegradable bioplastics that can be aerobic and anaerobiclly digested along with the food waste to create compost are all significant steps towards food waste reduction.

Related Links:

U. S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

FAO - Global Food Losses And Food Waste  

U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

U.S. Food Waste Challenge

Dupont Awards for Packaging Innovation

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