Food waste – the dilemma between packaging functionality and sustainability in this hidden problem
Responsible food packaging can help navigate challenging decisions
Packaging and sustainability are often presented as opposing forces in much of the press coverage we see and read about the environmental challenges confronting us with waste. However, the reality is, this relationship is far more nuanced and intertwined, where a balanced use of responsible packaging actually advances sustainability through its key role in reducing food waste.
Our aim is to give you information on packaging that can be married with your own information and experiences with your products, customers, goals, and how you define sustainability in your business. Being informed will empower you to make packaging choices that are right for you.
Packaging’s role in reducing food waste is arguably under reported. With this article, Bonson hopes to stimulate your interest enough that it encourages you to do further reading on the role packaging plays in reducing food waste. Let us know if we can help point you in the right direction with references or resources that can help you find the answers that will lead you to choosing the packaging that is right for you. As well as giving you information, Bonson provides choice. We have wide range of packaging solutions in a diverse range of materials, including customisation to address your concerns around preventing food waste according to the nature of your particular product(s).
Food waste is a global crisis and harms the environment
Here is a basic explanation of why food waste is so bad for our environment… when food ends up in landfill, it releases a large amount of methane in the process of decomposition. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, even more powerful than CO2. To put that in perspective, if food waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter⁴. The energy and resources that are used along the supply chain are also wasted when food turns into waste.
Some facts in Australia
- In Australia alone, over 5 million tonnes of food ends up in landfill every year¹, creating a massive emissions problem
- The cost of food waste is huge – The Australian government estimates we waste around $20 billion in food annually²
- This wastage is predominantly happening in homes – 75% of all food that is sent to landfill comes from our households³
- On average, Australians throw one in five shopping bags of food in the bin – that’s about $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year³
All of this underlines that there hasn’t been enough attention on the food waste problem and addressing the attitudes and behaviors that lead to food waste. The Australian Government launched a National Food Waste Strategy In November 2017, at the National Food Waste Summit in Melbourne. The strategy provides a framework to support collective action towards halving Australia’s food waste by 2030.
Since then, a number of organisations, including Foodbank are playing an important role in tackling Australia’s food waste problem. Not only are Foodbank’s food waste and grocery rescue operations helping to redirect or re-purpose 37 million kilograms of food and groceries that would otherwise end up in landfill, they are educating people on the waste hierarchy. You’ll find similar information about the waste hierarchy on our own website on this section titled ‘Framework for a better future’. We’ve supplemented this with some great tips specifically for the Food Service sector at the bottom of this article, but first, let’s address why using appropriate food packaging is a critical part of reducing food waste…
What is ‘appropriate’ food packaging to prevent food waste?
Appropriate packaging is packaging that is fit for purpose, including keeping food safe, as well as:
- Increases shelf life
- Decreases food waste
- Decreases food damage
Responsible food packaging design and size is usually created with these three responsibilities above in mind. This includes the use of barriers (odour, fat/oils, oxygen, UV light and moisture) that will reduce the need for preservatives in food and in some cases, helping to save on energy costs and improve consumer health. In addition, packaging can keep contaminants away from food and this safety aspect has become an even more important factor in light of Covid-19.
The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) says that on average, the resources used for packaging saves ten times more resources of the products it protects.⁵
When you take everything into account, it’s easy to see that there is more than one side of the story about packaging and sustainability. We hope this article has helped spark your interest in learning more about how you can best achieve harmony between functionality and sustainability with your products and view packaging as a tool to achieve your goals, including food waste reduction.
Some tips for the Food Service sector to help with reducing food waste
To reduce food waste, changes have to be implemented at every stage of the process – from farmers and food processors to retailers and individual customers. Here are some tips to start reducing food waste within the food service sector today:
- Practice good stock and food storage control
- Be smart about serving sizes
- Track your food usage and waste to identify opportunities for improvement
- Predict your demand patterns
- Have a plan for excess food
And of course, last, but not least – use appropriate packaging to reduce food waste, including choosing the right type of packaging material.
- April. G 2019, Australia’s shameful food wastage epidemic, Better Homes and Gardens
- Department of the Environment and Energy 2017, Working together to reduce food waste in Australia, Australian Government
- n.d., Food waste facts in Australia, Food Bank
- n.d., The Glocal Issue of Food Waste, Love Food Hate Waste
- n.d., Shelf Life, Food Waste, and Sustainability, Trayak