Packaging has been placed at the heart of a Europe-wide blueprint to cut the millions of tonnes of food wasted in the region every year.
The European Commission (EC) has declared that the optimisation of food packaging without compromising safety is a key component of the plan to slash the 89m tonnes of food squandered by consumers and industry annually – the equivalent of 179kg per person.
It estimated that around 42% of total food waste is caused by households, food manufacturers account for 39%, retailers for 5% and the catering sector for 14%. These figures exclude agricultural waste and fish discards.
Brussels warned that if nothing was done the mountain of food waste would balloon to 126m tonnes by the end of the decade.
Food packaging has often been the target of criticism – seen by some as part of the waste problem, rather than the solution. Industry groups such as the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) have lobbied hard to ensure that food packaging’s vital waste-saving role is more widely recognized.
The initiative, unveiled last week as Food Safety Day, showed that EC had clearly taken this message onboard. In a briefing document, it defined food packaging optimisation as reducing food packaging – such as four apples wrapped together – without compromising food safety.
”It is also about finding a balance between adapting food packaging to changing lifestyles (smaller portion sizes for smaller households to reduce food waste) and preventing the additional packaging waste this might create,” said an EC statement.
Innovation and bio-packaging
The plan stresses the need for an innovation stream – highlighting the role for new technologies around active and intelligent packaging and bio-packaging.
Bio-based and/or biodegradable packaging represents a concrete example of innovative and sustainable packing that could be part of the solution. But the EC cautioned that a number of challenges would need to be addressed – including the ability to produce feedstock that did not compete with food production. The development of separate waste stream collection was also central.
The scheme also suggested the need for well-designed packaging to cut food waste. This could involve helping consumers to buy the right amount of food to meet their needs – and can be addressed through smaller pack sizes and split packs, said the body.
It added: “Well-designed food packaging can also help consumers keep what they buy at its best through re-closable packs, new vacuum and shrink wrap packaging that extends shelf life. “
Acknowledging that its strategy was in its infancy, the EC said it had already begun debating the issues with bodies such as the EU Retail Forum for Sustainability the EU Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Roundtable, the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning of the Food Supply Chain; and an Informal Member States Network.