Better food packaging can cut 1.3bn ton waste bill
Improved food packaging can help to cut the 1.3bn tons of food produced for human consumption which is either lost or wasted each year, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The report, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, revealed that one third of all food is never eaten wasting the resources used in its production, processing and distribution. Also, greenhouse gas emissions associated with the waste are produced in vain.
But one of the report’s authors, Ulf Sonesson, from the Swedish Institute for Food Production and Biotechnology said smart packages can cut food waste in western economies. Speaking at the Save Food congress, held at the Interpack trade event in Dusseldorf, Germany, Sonesson told FoodProductionDaily: “Packages that can be enclosed after opening help to prolong shelf life and to reduce waste. Also environmental indicators in packages, such as temperature monitors, can help reveal the environmental status (and freshness) of food contained within the package.”
Sonesson also said improved packaging design was an important way of reducing waste. “The design of yoghurt pots means that it is impossible to empty the product – up to 10 per cent stays in the pot. So packaging design can be improved to help food leave the product (package).”
Consumers in developed nations waste significantly more food than those in developing nations. The researchers estimated the per capita food waste in Europe and North America at 95 –115kg/year compared with only 6 – 11kg/year in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
Worldwide, fruit and vegetables, particularly tubers, suffer the biggest wastage rates of between 40-55 per cent.
In medium- and high-income countries, most food is wasted at the consumption stage because it is discarded while still fit for human consumption
Significant wastage is attributed to quality standards which reject food items which are not perfect in shape or appearance.
Consumers’ confusion about the meaning of best-before dates and lack of purchase planning were also said to waste large amounts of food. The report noted the “careless attitude of those consumers who can afford to waste food,” because it is so cheap.
In low-income countries, most food is lost during the early and middle stages of the food supply chain. The main losses were attributed to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting, storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions.
Poor infrastructure and a lack of developed packaging and marketing systems made the problems worse, according to the research.
“Given that many smallholder farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food security, a reduction in food losses would have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods,” stated the report.
Finally, the report warned of major knowledge gaps concerning food loss and waste. Further research should focus on quantifying food losses and attributing them to individual causes plus the costs of preventing food losses.
The FAO commissioned the report from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) for the Save Food congress at Interpack.
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