A convenient truth: When it comes to food waste, the value of packaging hits home

Robert Lilienfeld

February 2, 2017

What's convenience and packaging got to do with food waste? More than you think, a point that hits home with consumers.

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is by avoiding it.

Take food waste, for example. Consumers consistently deny that food waste is a big issue to them (see the recent Ohio State study on consumer attitudes towards food waste.)

So, if we want to reduce food waste at home, we should be working to find a strategy that solves a direct consumer problem, and in so doing, tangentially reduces food waste.

Research I just finished for the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) provides just such an opportunity:

Let’s start by understanding that much, if not most, food waste in the developed world starts at home. No matter how many modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), intelligent packaging, and shrink control programs get implemented at retail, it’s the last few feet that truly count: the distance from the back of the shelf in the consumer’s pantry or fridge to the pan, pot, oven, grill, or microwave.

And what drives consumers to use up that food before it goes bad? Is it economics? Concern for the environment? Social stigma? Nope, nope, and nope.

It’s convenience.

That’s what respondents told me after journaling their food purchase and consumption habits and being interviewed in their homes. They want to serve healthy, nutritious and affordable meals to their families. But they don’t have a lot of time to do so.


They appreciate the fact that packaging can make their lives easier and they reach for those packages that can help. Among their favorites are resealable bags, clear containers, and packages designed to provide portion control.

Need to be convinced? Take a look at what one young woman in the video clip has to say if you haven't already.

So, from a food waste reduction perspective, packaging has a very positive role to play, as it helps reduce the amount that is thrown away. Thus, we need more packaging that makes it easier for consumers to store, find, serve, and apportion the foods they purchase. Of course, we should continue making this packaging even lighter and more resource efficient.

You know all of this. Now, how can you convince others?

Why not start by reminding them that the first of the three Rs is to Reduce, and that it’s better to not create waste than to have to figure out how to Reuse or Recycle it. Then, tell them to think about good packaging as the best tool in the source reduction arsenal as it prevents, and thus reduces, food waste.

Now that’s a convenient truth.

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved with sustainable packaging for more than 20 years. He is currently editor of The ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, a marketing and communications consultant to AMERIPEN and other organizations, and is a professional photographer.

About the Author(s)

Robert Lilienfeld

Robert Lilienfeld Consulting

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved in sustainable packaging for 25 years, working as a marketing executive, consultant, strategic planner, editor, writer, and communications expert. He’s President of Robert Lilienfeld Consulting, working with materials suppliers, converters, trade associations, retailers, and brand owners. He also recently founded SPRING, The Sustainable Packaging Research, Information, and Networking Group. Reach him at [email protected].

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