BY GILLIAN GARSIDE-WIGHT
PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR, SUN BRANDING SOLUTIONS
The statistics around global food and drink waste are staggering. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3bn tonnes — gets lost or wasted. In Europe alone the food currently wasted could feed 200m people.
Wasted food and drink can be tackled in a variety of ways – from technology to education, at both an international and a domestic level. But the role of packaging in these reduction efforts has been underplayed.
In reality, the lifecycle of the products we buy and consume each day is inextricably linked with the packaging that protects and preserves them. Cans, bottles and wrapping have a crucial stake in whether food ends up wasted or consumed. Plus, as the last and most powerful call to action in our decision to buy, packaging represents a key intersection between retailer and customer.
The Courtauld 2025 Commitment, led by resource efficiency charity British Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is a sign of things to come – and not just in the UK. Britain is often viewed as less environmentally friendly than its European neighbours, but this week saw retailers and brands come out in force. International players such as Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut agreed to ambitious 20% reduction targets across food and drink waste, emissions – along with efforts to reduce the impact associated with water use in the supply chain.
As those with the power to fix the inefficiencies of the food and drink join forces, packaging designers must stand up and be counted too.
It’s easy to forget that the packaging industry already does an effective job of ensuring food lasts longer. The vegetables we buy in the supermarket are a typical example. The shelf-life of cucumbers, for instance, would be reduced by three to five days without plastic wrapping. We take for granted that many day-to-day products remain fresh and edible because of the packaging designs that sustain them.
So how will packaging evolve to counteract food waste going forward? In the years ahead we’ll see the continued rise of intelligent packaging. The technology at the heart of temperature indicators used in beer cans could be used to show when food is no longer suitable for consumption. Chemical indicators will provide more accuracy in alerting us to approaching use-by dates.
Informative labelling on-pack will also be key. Now more than ever, retailers will have to ensure that guidance around reducing waste is clear and accessible. Technological solutions such RFID and image recognition can play a part here too, allowing consumers to view additional details online where on-pack space doesn’t permit.
As well as trying to influence behaviour, packaging must also adapt to it. According to Love Food Hate Waste, the main reason we throw away good food is through either preparing too much or not using food in time. Designers can’t help what consumers do with the food they cook from scratch, but with they can cater better to changing modern lifestyles.
In 2014 the most common household type in the EU was the single person living alone (32.7%). As our cooking habits change, with the proliferation of ready meals, for instance, portion control can have a powerful effect. Resealables can also solve the issue of wasted pre-prepared food but forward-thinking ideas are emerging in other areas too. Ever discovered an old, soggy bag of salad in the back of your fridge? Salad packs designed in two halves with separate portions, thereby extending the life of the pack, demonstrate that often the simplest approaches are the best.
Given the global issues of food waste, the packaging industry is constantly finding innovative ways to ensure responsible consumption– but of course we can do more. New advances are a signal of what will hopefully be a brighter, more responsible future. Ultimately though, the deciding factor will be a unified response across all fronts.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020