Food Waste and the Unseen Opportunities in Packaging

Food waste continues to be one of the world’s biggest challenges our society has.  

In Singapore, a new study by the Singapore Environment Council and consultancy firm Deloitte found that each Singapore household throws away an estimated S$258 of unconsumed food annually. This is about S$342 million of wasted food a year, across all households. It is not surprising then that reducing food waste is an important part of the country’s drive towards becoming a zero-waste nation, with Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources designating 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste.

On a global level, the scale of food waste is epic. An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, which is a third of all food produced for human consumption. While food waste triggers malnutrition and hunger, it also causes economic and environmental issues. There is foremost the financial burden to brand owners, retailers and consumers for the food produced but never sold, delivered or consumed. The social cost of wasted food is food inequality where the 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste is four times the amount needed to feed the 821 million hungry people around the world. Then, there is the environmental cost of food waste. This includes the waste of natural resources such as water, energy and land, which are required to harvest, process and distribute food. And when food reaches the landfill, it releases methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the Earth. 

Changing habits

Convenience is driving modern lifestyles, and this applies to food just as much as other consumables. It is at this consumer stage where most food waste occurs. The demand for greater food variety and access is driving the globalization of food and requiring it to travel longer distances and across more platforms such as e-commerce, which compounds the pressures and challenges for a more sustainable food supply chain.  

Can we all revert to simpler ways and foods? I don’t think so. How do we then create a supply chain that can meet our desires and minimise food waste? Essential food packaging is often the key to this challenge, where the solution lies in delivering food in the right quantity and with the right quality, with extended shelf life and enhanced food safety. 

Innovating to reduce food waste

Portion packaging can minimise food waste by ensuring the right amount of food goes on the plate.  Together with packaging that extends shelf life, a longer time is provided for retailers and consumers to sell and consume the food. And when done right, packaging that is thinner and lighter but does not compromise on performance can be a sustainable solution that not only protects perishable foods but also cuts down on packaging waste, storage and transportation costs.

Multi-portion packs, freezer-ready packs and resealable packs all enable a less wasteful food supply chain and can be achieved without increasing packaging weight and adhesive labels. Packaging solutions such as Sealed Air’s CRYOVAC® brand of Darfresh® vacuum skin packaging can be used in many fresh protein applications such as beef to deliver flexible portion sizes that take up minimum space all the while extending product shelf life.

In fast-developing countries such as China where the food industry is undergoing a transformation and moving towards an omnichannel approach, vacuum skin packaging has helped meat suppliers to not only present fresh food in new retail formats but also achieve greater supply chain efficiencies such as increased flexibility in plant operations, inventory management and retail distribution. This is making a difference in a growing market with middle-class consumers who are prepared to pay a premium for fresh food products with higher safety and quality standards. 

 
Multi-portion packs with vacuum skin packaging

New technologies coming to the fore

Packaging solutions are increasingly combined with new technologies to meet growing consumer demand for greater food variety and access, and to extend shelf life.  For example, an innovative avocado spread portion pack from New Zealand (which won PIDA Save Food Packaging Award in 2017) uses the CRYOVAC brand of Freshness Plus® food packaging. The solution is an active barrier film that when combined with cold high-pressure pasteurisation, enables a 90-day shelf life for fresh avocado.  


Active packaging technologies optimize freshness and shelf life

This type of portion pack facilitates consumer convenience, but the more important result is extending the market reach for fresh avocado and generating revenue from an otherwise difficult to commercialise fruit. The returns to the food producer are wider product distribution and reduced product spoilage, which enable greater avocado consumption. 

Another solution bringing convenience to greater levels is the CRYOVAC brand of Simple Steps® packaging which combines vacuum skin packaging with steam-assisted and self-venting technologies for ready-to-eat meals. Vacuum sealing preserves the meal’s ingredient flavors while steam heats the food uniformly in the microwave. Less packaging is used overall because the food sits directly in the cook-in tray and not in a separate pouch. The pre-packaged portions ensure that the right amount of food is prepared. This is another award-winning solution, with Simple Steps clinching the 2018 WorldStar Packaging Awards (Singapore).

 

Packaging innovation for convenience foods and ready meals (photos courtesy of The Soup Spoon)

Innovative packaging combined with resourceful design can generate real solutions for our food-waste epidemic. When the right packaging is used for the right application, essential food packaging can make a significant difference in reducing food waste and minimising the associated environmental impacts.


Alan Adams is the Director of Sustainability at Sealed Air APAC. Sealed Air is a knowledge-based company focused on innovative packaging solutions, with a global footprint of 100 manufacturing facilities. 


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