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Packaging is part of the solution to food waste

23 October 2016

INCPEN – the Industry Council for research on Packaging & the Environment – is launching an initiative to counter myths around packaging and its negative effect on the environment. 

The organisation says that misunderstandings and misinformation about packaging can have a negative impact on its ability to deliver valuable sustainability benefits.

“Too many people are still of the opinion that packaging is a major environmental problem,” said Jane Bickerstaffe, INCPEN director. “Because of this, there is a real danger that its valuable contribution in delivering a more sustainable way of life is being overlooked.”

Bickerstaffe cites the current focus on the need to reduce food waste as an excellent example. She said: “People often regard the pre-packaging of items that can be sold loose, such as apples and tomatoes, as a demonstration of unnecessary packaging. The reality, however, is that a far higher proportion of foods sold loose are damaged and end up being wasted. There is 27% more waste from apples sold loose than those sold in trays and wrapping.”

The problem of food waste, says INCPEN, can therefore be more effectively tackled if a greater focus is placed on trying to prevent it happening in the first place rather than finding ways to deal with it after it has occurred, and this is where packaging has a vital role to play.  
“Packaging can help ensure that food products are effectively protected and preserved throughout the supply chain so that they arrive at the consumer’s home in the best possible condition,”said Bickerstaffe. “Just as important, it can help ensure the product lasts as long as possible in the home.”

INCPEN believes that calls to ban or restrict certain types of packaging or to avoid packaged goods are misplaced, for example the recent call by leading London chefs to ban the use of expanded polystyrene, EPS, containers. The reality is that EPS is the ideal material to maintain the freshness of fish and keep it in good condition during its journey from sea to restaurant. It also has the lowest carbon footprint of any plastic type and although not easy to recycle, in London 21% of waste is recovered as energy.

“Food manufacturers need to be able to select from the widest choice of packaging materials and formats to enable them to find the right solution for their particular product,” said Bickerstaffe. “Over-packaging in itself is something of a myth since no right-minded manufacturer is going to spend more than is absolutely necessary on its packaging, particularly in today’s highly competitive markets.”

The benefits of packaging are demonstrated by comparing the impact it has had on preventing waste in developed countries with what is happening in developing nations. There, food waste can be as high as 50%, whereas in the UK less than 3% of food is wasted between farm or factory and retail depot.                                                                                                                                                                                            

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