Australian-first research by RMIT University has shown the vital role of packaging in minimising food waste.
There are significant opportunities to reduce food waste in the supply chain through improvements and innovation in packaging and by communicating these benefits and opportunities to industry stakeholders.
Food is lost and wasted for many reasons, including damage in the field from severe weather events and disposal of inedible components during food preparation. While this loss/waste is largely unavoidable, other waste occurs due to inefficiencies or poor handling in the supply chain. This is where packaging can play an important role, for example by reducing damage in transit and handling or by extending shelf life. A number of packaging opportunities to reduce waste have been identified in this report, based on an extensive literature review and interviews with stakeholders. They are:
1) Distribution packaging that provides better protection and shelf life for fresh produce as it moves from the farm to the processor, wholesaler or retailer. This may require the development of tailored solutions for individual products.
2) Distribution packaging that supports recovery of surplus and unsaleable fresh produce from farms and redirects it to food rescue organisations.
3) Improved design of secondary packaging to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose, i.e. that it adequately protects food products as they move through the supply chain. Packaging developers need to understand the distribution process and where and why waste occurs.
4) A continuing shift to pre-packed and processed foods to extend the shelf life of food products and reduce waste in distribution and at the point of consumption (the home or food services provider). The packaging itself also needs to be recoverable to minimise overall environmental impacts.
5) Adoption of new packaging materials and technologies, such as modified atmosphere packaging and oxygen scavengers, to extend the shelf life of foods.
6) Education of manufacturers, retailers and consumers about the meaning of use-by and best-before date marks on primary packaging to ensure that these are used appropriately. Confusion about date marking results in food being thrown away when it is still safe to eat.
7) Product and packaging development to cater for changing consumption patterns and smaller households. Single and smaller serve products will reduce waste by meeting the needs of single and two person households.
8) Collaboration between manufacturers and retailers to improve the industry’s understanding of food waste in the supply chain. Greater attention to be given to where and why this occurs, tracking over time, will reduce the costs and environmental impacts of waste.
9) More synchronised supply chains that use intelligent packaging and data sharing to reduce excess or out-of-date stock.
10) Increased use of retail ready packaging to reduce double handling and damage and improve stock turnover, while ensuring that it is designed for effective product protection and recoverability (reuse or recycling) at end of life.
The implementation of these initiatives could be supported through further research and communication activities to highlight the critical links and trade-offs between packaging consumption, protection and containment of food, and food waste.