Angelika Christ, secretary general, FEFCO, said downsizing packaging makes no sense if product loss occurs as a consequence.
“Packaging can be designed to ensure easy opening and handling without product damage. The flexibility exists to introduce bespoke designs quickly, and cost-effectively,” she said.
The United Nations claims over a billion tons of food is wasted globally every year, a figure that could be reduced with the right packaging.
In the industrialised world 40% of food at retail and consumer level is thrown away, while a similar figure is wasted in developing countries during post-harvest handling and processing (source UN).
Christ added corrugated packaging protects 75% of European goods in transit and ensures more food reaches the consumer’s table.
She said Vitacress, a European watercress processor asked FEFCO for a corrugated packaging to increase shelf life and reduce product loss in distribution.
The result included a drain tray of crushed ice that sits on the top rim of the pack and trickles melting water over the watercress to keep it fresh for up to 48 hours.
She added in Germany, ethylene absorbing corrugated board is being developed for fresh produce to slow down unwanted ripening. Ethylene triggers the ripening process in certain fruits and vegetables.
SCA’s Germany division is working on the technology with the Fraunhofer Institute. Significant testing of the technology is still required in terms of machine testing, potential shelf life extension capabilities and ensuring the pack complies with all relevant product safety regulations.
This will be the first time ethylene absorbing technology has been incorporated directly into the corrugated board substrate. To make the active packaging, a binding element is applied to the corrugation cavities and the ethylene absorber applied to this in powder or granulate form. This is then sealed by a covering paper layer. All subsequent processing and converting stages for the crate are unaffected.
The company is also investigating the option of incorporating the technology into a printed inner lining.
“Food packaging ensures food security and safety, enhances both logistics management and product identification,” said Christ.
“Corrugated’s versatility, 100% recyclability and protective qualities makes it an integral part of the measures needed to solve the problem of food waste.”
The issue is on-going for example the Agri-Food Hub in collaboration with Campden BRI and Cranfield University hosted 'Waste Not Want Not; Agri-Food Waste Solutions for a Hungry World' last year, which attracted over 50 delegates.
Speakers from various food organisations, such as Defra, WRAP and J.S.Sainsbury came together to discuss the problem.
According to author Jonathan Bloom, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do about It), as much as 30% of food, worth around $48.3bn, is thrown away on an annual basis.
“At the household level, 25% of the food we bring into our houses ends up in the trash. This discarded food adds up to approximately $2,200 annually of a household’s food bill,” he said.
Bloom added at the retail level, there is also significant food loss. A study in the US found the average estimated food loss for fruit and vegetables at supermarkets in 2006 was a little more than
8% while fresh meat, poultry, and seafood had a lower average loss rate of 4.5%.
“Losses also occur in other food categories, notably dairy, that rely heavily on conservative “best before” labels to mitigate the risk of food safety issues,” he said.
“There’s a cost to this not only in terms of food that is not sold, but also the added cost of waste removal fees. While inventory management has improved significantly over the past decade, these waste figures still amount to significant losses.”