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Produce packaging

Packaging conundrum in Coronavirus era

Coronavirus has provoked new heat in the food packaging debate, twisting arguments for more or for less, the villain versus the hero.

Some are using the crisis to hammer home the message that plastic is vital for protecting food and extending its shelf life, while others stress that the pandemic highlights the fact that disposable plastic is unsustainable and a carrier of harmful bacteria.

Big food – under pressure from campaigners and consumers – is currently on a mission to rethink plastic packaging and move towards a circular economy.

Nestle and Mondelez, for example, have both this month signed the European Plastics Pact. This is a commitment to make 100% of packaging recyclable or reusable and reduce the use of virgin plastic by one-third by 2025.

But where exactly does plastic sit in the time of Coronavirus?

Should it be celebrated as a vital tool for protecting food from contamination and avoiding food waste? Or is plastic the villain, providing a surface for the virus to survive? When a consumer buys a banana in the supermarket, is the banana safer in a bag or out of a bag?

Once trivial questions have quickly become all consuming.

There is no current evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, according to both the European and US food standards agencies. But that doesn’t mean there’s evidence it isn’t.

What if someone’s sneezed on the banana? The FDA adds that, like other viruses, it is possible that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects.

Consumer demand for packaged goods is skyrocketing​

Shopper spend in Europe for packaging in food products is soaring, according to data from IRI POS. In Italy, for instance, consumer spend on packaged mandarins rose over 111% in the week ending 8 March, versus the year-ago period.

The knock-on is a jump in demand for plastics amid the virus pandemic, says Barry Turner, director of plastics and flexible packaging at the British Plastics Federation.

“We are seeing order volumes significantly higher depending on the category and the item​,” he told FoodNavigator. “We’ve seen a massive upswing from certain sectors – such as the NHS and all sorts of situations where food still has to be served within a closed environment – for the sort of things people have been calling on to be banned, so things like stirrers.”… Read the full article

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