Food waste is an increasing global issue; with the introduction of new innovative food packaging, this issue has the potential to be absolved. It has been calculated that over one-third of food produced globally ends up as food waste. In the EU, that equates to around 100 million tons of annual food waste and is expected to increase to 200 million tons by 2050. Moreover, about 20% of food waste has been identified as preventable with improved food date labels. This waste only worsens the ecological, carbon, and water footprint of the food industry; let alone food security, as the demand for food is expected to increase by 50% by 2050. Food waste contributes to food insecurity by limiting people’s access to fresh and nutritious foods, as well as contributing to a decrease in freshwater access. Food insecurity has been an increasing global issue for years, but with the impact of COVID-19, food scarcity has accelerated. The United Nations have addressed food waste as a global issue, according to Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, calling for action to reduce global food waste by 50% by 2030.
Food Packaging and Plastic Pollution
With food waste comes the packaging that’s thrown out with it. The growing rate of plastic waste has quickly become a global threat. Out of the 8.3 billion tons of waste produced worldwide, 76% of it is plastic, with less than 10% of that plastic being recycled; this issue needs to be addressed immediately. At the end of its life, this plastic takes up prime real estate in landfills or, worse, in our oceans. Each year, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans, which is only growing, with estimated projections stating that by 2050 there will be more weight of plastic in our oceans compared to fish. This plastic only goes on to create more issues for our ecosystems and human health after being broken down into microplastics. With 40% of plastic produced globally for food packaging, decreasing food waste would result in less packaging production. It would allow the food industry to take astronomical strides towards improving its use of natural resources and reducing waste outputs. The issue of food waste and food packaging can only be resolved at the root of the cause: during the manufacturing stages.
Food Packaging as a Solution
Food packaging is essential to food production and manufacturing. It has the opportunity to improve food safety and increase the shelf life of food, which can help limit food waste as well as preserve natural resources. Some governments, such as the United Kingdom, have acknowledged this issue and have implemented policies. Some of these policies include taxes on plastic packaging to work towards resolving this issue. As governments shift away from plastic, it is becoming essential to introduce more recyclable and biodegradable packaging to the food industry.
With a shift in focus on reducing food waste and improving packaging, considering innovative solutions such as active packaging, bio-plastics, and intelligent packaging is vital. Though it is under the belief that these innovative solutions are costly and time-consuming, with the ever-changing world and the savings that they promise, they end up offering more benefits.
A solution to reducing food waste, includes the widespread introduction of active packaging. Active packaging provides packaging that contains active compounds with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. These compounds are then released periodically during product shelf life, subsequently prolonging the shelf life. These active compounds also eliminate the need for additional preservatives in the packaging stage.
A solution to reducing traditional plastic waste at the end of packaging’s life cycle is the widespread use of bioplastics. In the western world, bioplastics are not necessarily a new concept but are often misunderstood. Bioplastics are usually made of renewable, organic materials such as corn, wood, vegetables, etc., engineered with a biopolymer. As the name suggests, they are organically made, but the confusion comes with disposal methods as these products are not home-compostable; they are industrial-compostable. Increasing transparency for these products can help stakeholders better understand these products and limit any risk of greenwashing. Improving education about these products and how individuals can ensure that these products are disposed of correctly would greatly support bioplastics. As the waste management for these products is rather complicated, bioplastics should be reserved only for products that require it. Even with the complication of this material, these bioplastics offer an invaluable solution for food packaging while still preserving food quality and safety, supporting food waste reduction.
The final innovative solution discussed here is intelligent packaging. This packaging has the potential to improve food safety as well as prevent unnecessary food waste and economic loss. Intelligent packaging involves the addition of a colorimetric indicator that evaluates the freshness/spoilage of food throughout its shelf life. Sometimes the expiration date inaccurately reflects the freshness of food whether the product has outlived its determined life or if mistreatment during its lifecycle (ie. if “products are not stored, transported, or even handled at the appropriate temperature, reducing their shelf life”) has let the food expire sooner than its labelled date. This packaging helps everyone within the lifecycle, including the consumer, understand the food quality better. This product has the potential to lower dramatically. Below are some pictures of what these indicators look like on food packaging.
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