We all take for granted how much packaging is an integral part of the food experience. However, the key challenge has been how to ensure packaging is recyclable while still continuing to do the job of protecting food. It’s not as easy as we might imagine.
How many throwaway coffee cups have not been used since March?
I was wondering whether the fact that more people are working from home means our need for pre-packaged sandwiches and quick foods has reduced. This may or may not be the case, but certainly it has focused minds about what we want from our food packaging. Those in the business of manufacturing packaging have been working hard on food waste prevention technology that starts from the moment foods are wrapped.However, there is much to still be achieved.
Food Waste and Packaging is a symbiotic relationship
Although we talk about food waste in generic terms and get cross when we see good food going into landfill, however, our expectations are that food we buy should consistently taste very fresh when we open it. Yet this expectation comes with a significant price. In a recent Which report of 89 branded UK popular purchases 34% still had packaging that is difficult or impossible to recycle. In fact, only 3% of bagged snack packaging was recyclable on the kerbside. We have commitments to green hashtags but. Are we actually amending our buying behaviours at all?
On the positive side the initiative to reduce food waste has contributed to a 25% reduction in the UK’s performance since 2007. Yet we are still struggling to prevent food and packaging waste and bring it down to acceptable levels. WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, stated that in 2015 UK food waste was around 156kg per person annually. But between 2015 and 2018 food waste fell by 6.7% How much do you think you and/or your family dispose of every week? It might be worth doing the experiment.
What labelling and packaging changes our eating habits?
So, what’s going on? Apparently international brands are loath to label recycling information as UK specific when their products might be sold abroad. But this isn’t the beginning or the end of the story. According to Which the whole packaging cycle is much more complex than what is recycled at the end of life. Do you ever think about the raw materials or how these are processed when you throw out your food packaging? How are the packets manufactured, how are they distributed and eventually where does it all end up? In addition, we need to consider the water used in the various processes, land use and the overall carbon footprint of our packaging needs. If we were more aware of these would that affect what we buy and what we consume?
Should we boycott snacks until they are wrapped sustainably?
Yes, I do think it would be very interesting to see how many takeaway coffee cups and un-recyclable sandwich wrappers have not been used since Covid really hit but even those are just the tip of the iceberg. According to Helen Bird from WRAP ’almost anything can be recycled however this has to happen at scale to be successful.’ For sure there is much to be done in this department and consumer behaviour will have to help drive change. At present crisp packets aren’t easily recyclable because they need to be airtight and this determines the kind of materials used. Therefore, if it is difficult to change the packaging because of the product then perhaps we should be mindful of our food choices? Just a thought.
SavrPak is a highly innovative company that has put its money where its mouth is and developed a food waste prevention technology. It is an easy solution as it is a frozen patch that is stuck onto food packaging. Its aim is to push moisture out of the air in a food container. This way it traps any liquid and therefore keeps it from making the food go soggy. This means that humidity may well be reduced by almost 50%
NanoPack has also developed an essential oils film that will increase the shelf life of yellow cheese by half. With antimicrobial packaging eradicating pathogenic organisms, we can see a crossover between preserving food and also improving its safety.
In another exciting development incrEDIBLE are producing spoons you eat! This is to offset the amount of plastic in the oceans. By 2050 there is likely to be more plastic by weight than fish if we don’t do something about it now! Their model is to provide either chocolate flavour spoons or an oregano chilli spoon. This looks like a really positive development.
There are some exciting innovations already on the market
There are many more in the pipeline. Meanwhile some more mundane tech is being used by a Tesco/Olio partnership that shares availability of spare food to enable food sharing. This comes after Tesco trialled the app for six months and have continued to work with Olio to ensure food is redistributed. Anyone can sign up and share spare food with neighbours.
This is not a fad because during the trial 195000 portions of food that may well have been destined for landfill were picked up. So, you could say that nearly 100000 meals were given to people rather than being thrown out.
Annually about one third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted
If this wasn’t bad enough 1 out of 9 people in the world is undernourished. Therefore Unibake has just joined IKEA in the global "10x20x30" initiative . Its aim is to halve food loss and waste by 2030. 10+ of the world’s biggest food retailers and providers lead the initiative and each of them has committed to engage at least 20 of their suppliers. So how is your recycling and how much food do you waster? If you were to collect a week’s un-recyclable packaging how much do you think it would weigh? Let me know if you fancy undertaking the experiment.
Senior roles in packaging are worth a huge amount to companies large and small
Getting the right environmental credentials for your packaging is a massive PR opportunity and puts you one step ahead of the competition. If you have the right packaging people on board, you will have a real advantage and getting these hires right allows a business to flourish and develop. I spend my life seeking out exceptional talent in the food and drink industry and if I can help with a hire do just give me a call.