One of the speakers at the Interpack Save Food congress, Johannes Bergmair, World Packaging Organisation vice president for sustainability and food safety, pointed to initiatives by organisations including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to cut food losses in the developing world.
“But, in countries such as the UK, it’s much more to do with losses in distribution and with the consumer,” he told Food Manufacture.
“Packaging can help with design solutions, such as improved portion sizes. Active and intelligent packaging is a huge issue, along with ways of managing the atmosphere inside the pack.”
Simply ensuring that brand-owners and manufacturers are aware of all of the technologies and options has to be a major part of the industry’s effort, he said.
Food that is either lost or we throw away
“It’s to do, too, with consumer awareness of the tremendous scale of this issue, regarding the amount of energy that is lost, and greenhouse gases [GHG] produced, by the one-third of our food that is either lost or we throw away,” he said.
Also speaking at Interpack’s Save Food event was Helén Williams, senior lecturer at Karlstad University in Sweden.
“I’ve been showing how much food waste you would need to avoid in order to justify, in terms of GHG emissions, using a smaller pack,” said Williams. “With high-climate-impact products such as cheese or meat, you can justify doing almost anything to the pack.”
Even with a relatively low-impact product such as bread, consumers throw away so much that it is easy to justify, for example, supplying bags half the size and utilising more packaging materials as a result, she said.
Williams’ research has shown that increasing by 60% the amount of plastics around the same volume of bread would be balanced, in terms of environmental impact, by saving just one-tenth of a slice of bread.
Over the past two years or so Williams has worked with other partners on a twin-pack concept for bagged salads in a modified atmosphere, replacing one 65g pack with two 25g bags and, as a result, using 40% more film.
In this case, the additional environmental impact of the packaging would be balanced by saving just 3.5g of salad from the bin.
One challenge with the portion-pack approach, she said, was the consumer perception (often correct) that the retail price of two smaller packs could be considerably more than the price of one larger pack of the same volume.
“Up to now, the focus in packaging has been so narrow and so much about materials, materials minimisation and recycling,” Williams argued.
“In the future, we need a different agenda, with more collaboration, more complexity – but also with greater potential for true innovation,” she added.
“We need to start talking about packaging-food systems, and not just ‘packaging’ in isolation. You can’t determine which system is the most sustainable purely by looking at the material.”