A little more (sustainable) packaging, please…

Robert Lilienfeld in Sustainable Packaging on October 06, 2016

If you want to keep your donuts fresh longer, you’re going to need more packaging. This illustrates an Eco-Insights lesson about packaging and food waste.

 

As you are very aware, concerned people are constantly complaining about how much packaging our society generates. I’m also bombarded by media types wanting to know if packaging can help reduce food waste.

After explaining that packaging is, and probably always will be, the most effective method to reduce food waste by keeping food contained, fresh, safe, and easy to prepare & serve, I usually add a few of the following points:

 

  • Packaging can deliver the socially acceptable parts of meats, fruits and vegetables, with the balance used upstream for feed, fertilizer, or compost. Without this system, we’d all be throwing away more of the components we won’t eat…but other creatures can.
  • Packaging can help define, deliver and control portions. Thus, only the amount that can or should be eaten will be served and consumed, with little or nothing to throw away.
  • In the future, intelligent packaging will probably let us know that what’s inside needs to prepared and/or consumed now, while it’s still fresh. By the way, this is actually happening with meat, where gelatin in the label “decays” as the same rate as the meat in the package.

 

I then go on to say that many times, a little more packaging can save a whole lot of food from going to waste. I use data from INCPEN and other sources to explain that, in general, 90% of the environmental footprint comes from the product, and only 10% is due to the package. Thus, there’s a great deal of leverage on the packaging side if the goal is to reduce food waste.

The EPA’s latest data indicates that total packaging generated (not counting wooden crates and a few other rather esoteric packages) equals 66.0 million tons, and that food waste is 37.1 million tons. Let’s say that through the mechanisms mentioned above including modified-atmosphere packaging, portion control and newfangled sensors, a 10% increase in packaging by weight could lead to a 50% decrease in food waste. Here are the numbers:

By investing in 6.6 million more tons of packaging, we could theoretically reduce food waste by 18.6 million tons. In the course of doing so, the total amount of solid waste generated would fall by 12 million tons, or 4.6%.

Hurray!

And, the amount of food waste would fall from 14.6% of total waste generated to 7.7%. Hurray again!

 

Sometimes, more really is less.

 

What do you think? Please comment below.

 

Missed one of Bob's blogs? Read them here.

 

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.

 

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If sustainability and other on-trend topics in packaging concern you, consider attending PackEx Montréal, November 30, 2016 to December 1, 2016.   ___________________________________________________________________________________

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