Food packaging options to reduce waste and boost sustainability

There is no doubt that the statistics on global food waste are grim and sobering. A United Nations Report published earlier this year found that 17% of the food produced globally is wasted each year, which is one billion tonnes of food waste and accounts for around 8-10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions . And earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that the carbon footprint of food waste is larger than that of the airline industry.

At the same time, much of the global debate on pollution and environmental concerns focuses on plastic packaging, even as the packaging industry works hard to solve the problem of plastic waste and create the most sustainable future for packaging.

While packaging waste is a challenge that must continue to be addressed, food waste is a critical environmental consideration of equal concern. Businesses should use a balanced scorecard to ensure they are making the best decisions to protect the environment and minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

What are the best practices for maximizing the shelf life of products and minimizing the amount of packaging used? Consider the life cycle of meat and how packaging can maximize freshness.

1. The packaging format is important: Traditional sealed polystyrene trays with cling film offer only a minimum shelf life (7-10 days) and have some of the heaviest weights of any meat package size. As an alternative, brands should consider other package sizes that offer lower package weight and longer shelf life. For example, vacuum packaging removes almost all residual oxygen from the packaging and can triple the shelf life of a meat product.

2. Sealants are a game-changer: The right sealer can prevent the loss of drops and keep the packaging fresher for longer. It can also minimize leakage.

Some of today’s new resins allow the production of peelable seals that will work with a wide range of packaging materials, including crystallized polyethylene terephthalate (CPET), amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (APET), polypropylene (PP) and rigid polyethylene (PE) containers.

3. Sustainability is essential: The right mix of stiffness and toughness is essential for protection, especially for e-commerce applications. If a meat package is punctured or torn at any time, spoiled products and their negative impact on the environment are virtually inevitable.

4. Moisture and vapor barriers are also essential: Keeping air and moisture out of the way is essential to keeping meats and other produce fresh. The ability to achieve a higher moisture and vapor barrier also creates a selling point for brand owners who want to extend the expiration dates of products like granola, cereals, snacks and chips.

As we work to create more sustainable packaging, we need to take a close look at how our choices affect shelf life and food waste. The plastics and packaging industries have a unique opportunity to facilitate the transition to alternative packaging formats and designs that will minimize plastic and food waste. These measures will not only improve our products and processes, but also the sustainability of our natural resources.

Michelle sauder, Dow Marketing Director for Food and Specialty Packaging, joined the company in November 2017. She worked for Dupont for over 18 years, including her last role as Marketing Manager – Packaging, North America. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University, she graduated from the University of Delaware – Lerner College of Business and Economics with a Masters of Business Administration. Sauder can be found at LinkedIn.

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