- Optimizing, and possibly increasing, the amount of packaging used for food products may be a way to reduce food waste, according to a new report by Ameripen, a packaging solutions firm. The study found that globally, the more food that is packaged, the less food that is going to waste.
- Consumers tend to view recyclable packaging or no packaging at all as the most sustainable options for food. However, food that is packaged to last longer can be stored longer, thus leading to less wasted food — and food going to waste is typically more resource-intensive than disposed or recycled packaging.
- "There are a number of fresh food categories that are underpackaged and, if packaging solutions were deployed with a goal to prevent food waste, significant food waste reductions could be achieved," the study reads.
The idea of packaging more food to reduce food that spoils or otherwise goes to waste makes practical sense, as food that is packaged can also be better preserved. On the other hand, increasing the amount of packaging can seem counterintuitive to those seeking to reduce their own personal footprint — and those looking to reduce the amount of total waste that is generated.
However, wasted food is resource intensive, costing large amounts of water, energy and fuel for transport. In the United States, most food is wasted at the consumer level, when it spoils in the fridge or goes stale on shelves — or, in some cases, before it goes bad at all.
In a cost-benefit analysis, producing more packaging to reduce the amount of food may be better, from a sustainability perspective, than continuing to let so much food in the United States go to waste at the consumer level. Producing beef, for example, emits 370 more times greenhouse gas than producing packaging does, according to the Ameripen report. Cucumbers emit 178 times more emissions than packaging.
The material used for package matters, of course. Certain material, such as cardboard, some plastics and cartons, are easier to recycle than polystyrene foam or plastic film. Other materials, like glass or sturdy plastics, could even be reused by consumers.
Solutions for improving packaging (other than changing materials) range from clarifying or standardizing date labels to including more detailed information on packaging about how the containers help prevent food waste. Another route to reduce packaging waste would be to invest in technology that makes more types of containers recyclable. An even closer relationship between the waste sector and packaging producers may be key to further reducing food waste.