This post is a summary of an excellent article about designing packaging to reduce food waste from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). SPC is a membership-based collaborative that “believes in the power of industry to make packaging more sustainable” and “our mission is to bring sustainable packaging stakeholders together to catalyse actionable improvements to packaging systems and lend an authoritative voice on issues related to packaging sustainability”. This coalition is in turn a trademark project of www.GreenBlue.org
The article is very detailed and references many related studies. While a lot of the statistics relate to US studies, the basic principles of designing packaging to reduce and divert food waste still apply in a European context. It is a very worthwhile read for any food manufacturers committed to sustainability.
The article begins with some stark statistics about global food waste as follows:
The article suggests a number of ways that packaging can be adapted to help reduce food waste but acknowledges that this must be balanced against the possibility that the changes in the packaging structure or material may negate the environmental benefits of the reduced food waste. Throughout the article there are links to information and tools which may help businesses evaluate this trade-off.
The article suggests that food manufacturers start by asking questions about when and how their packaging contributes to food waste by the following methods:
The article recommends that you consider the following aspects of your product and/or packaging to see if it could benefit from resealable design features:
Using some more packaging to make smaller or separately wrapped single portions in a pack may help reduce food waste but the overall environmental benefit would need to be assessed.
Active packaging slows spoilage through technologies such as ethylene absorption, modified atmospheres, moisture absorption, etc., or adaptive materials that inform as to the quality/safety of the contents.
Intelligent packaging, sometimes called smart packaging, may include various sensor technologies. These solutions can help track the quality of perishable food products.
For certain food packaging, it may be impossible to access the last part of the food/product in the pack. The article discusses ways in which this might be improved (e.g., allowing the food to flow more freely out of the packaging) and has case studies to show how other food manufacturers have adapted their packaging to allow consumers to use every part of the food.
This relates to the fact that for some foods, a transparent pack, (e.g., salad leaves) will help consumers reduce waste because they can see the food inside and are reminded to use it before spoilage. However, in other cases transparent packaging will speed up food waste (e.g., potatoes) so this aspect of packaging needs to be carefully considered.
Food that is sent to landfill produces methane and food that is sent to be composted produces CO2 but the overall environmental damage is less if the food is composted, therefore compostable packaging is preferable if possible
The article recommends that your packaging should educate your consumers into how they can reduce waste of that food by freezing or by adapting the “best before / use by” wording.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help you with sustainable packaging, visit our Sustainable Carton page.