The Role Of Packaging In Reducing Food Waste

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Prof Pierre Pienaar, Education Director from the Australian Institute of Packaging and President of the World Packaging Organisation looks at how food packaging contributes to food waste.

The function of food packaging ranges from protecting products from damage, spoilage and contamination. However, it is also critical in ensuring that food chains are sustainable and is pivotal in transporting food from paddock to the plate.

Although consumers may not comprehend this immediately, there are differences between food waste and packaging waste and the relationship between both in minimising food waste. In fact by focusing on preventing food waste at its source instead of at the end-of-life disposal of food,  the conversation on food waste can be shifted away from the end of the food supply chain and onto the reduction stage of the Waste Hierarchy. Thus, this article will focus both on the reduction of physical food waste and the role of packaging in minimising food waste.

It is important that consumers develop a better understanding of the severe and health-related roles that packaging plays in increasing the shelf life of food, food protection and in allowing for food to be transported across long distances without spoilage among other purposes. This means that we should focus first on the role that packaging plays in the food supply chain and not only look at designing sustainable packaging or how brands should evaluate their packaging lifecycles and the environmental impact that it may cause at the end-of-life stage.

To begin with, packaging can not only extend shelf life of food and prevent food wastage at retail outlets and in homes, but it can also influence consumer behaviours through its determination of portion size, disposal methods and re-use options, which makes it an undervalued strategy in comparison to other methods in decreasing food waste. This is especially important considering that a third of all food produced globally or 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year goes to waste. Just within the region, about 30 percent of cereals/grains and 45 percent of root foods, fruit and vegetables and oil seeds go to waste when we take into consideration the start to finish of food production. On the other hand, only 20 percent of meat and dairy are wasted although it is commonly expected to contribute more to food waste. This means an in-depth analysis into the opportunities and shortfalls of packaging in the retail environment, as well as into consumers’ relationship with packaging at home has to be conducted in order to provide an insight into how packaging can contribute to food waste minimisation. This should also be coupled with education from a young age to empower individuals with the notion that we can reduce food waste and global poverty.

Although by focusing on packaging by itself, the issue of food waste cannot be solved, packaging plays a key role in this issue and the packaging industry requires consumer support in order to minimise food waste. The ability to minimise food waste has huge implications from a financial, environmental and social viewpoint and despite the emerging understanding and acceptance that packaging can be a solution to food waste,  there are still many negative perceptions on the importance of packaging and whether it can lead to a long-term solution to this issue.


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