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Reduce Food Waste – Use Plastic Packaging

Food Waste – World Wide

  • It is claimed that worldwide between 35 and 50% of all food produced is wasted, 1.3 billion tonnes
  • The total cost of this food waste is calculated at $1 trillion
  • It is also claimed that if food waste was a country it would be the World’s third largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China
  • Again, allegedly the land mass required to produce all this wasted food is equal to the size of China
  • It is calculated that 25% of the world’s freshwater supply is used to grow food which is never eaten

These ‘facts' are produced by OLIO which like our very own WRAP is in the business of suggesting ways of preventing food waste. In addition OLIO is in the business of finding ways to distribute food for consumption before it becomes inedible.


Food Waste – UK

Whatever the accuracy of these worldwide figures for food waste WRAP suggests that in the UK

  • 10 million tonnes of food waste occurs every year
  • The estimated cost of this food waste is calculated to be some £12 billion
  • It is calculated that waste food accounts for some 20% of the UK’s CO²emissions
  • Avoidable household food waste accounts for some 70% of the total
  • Supermarkets and retail outlets accounts for some 2%. The remainder is incurred from farm – factory processing

These figures do not indicate that supermarkets and food manufacturers are ‘over packaging’, indeed they suggest that households are currently receiving their food supply, at the point of purchase, in peak condition.


Which brings me to the point of this analysis. As most perishable foods are wrapped in plastic.

How, based on this information, can anyone realistically propose a reduction in plastic food packaging?


If we consider just some of the more perishable foods and the benefits of plastic packaging as follows.


*Shelf life extension due to packaging

                  Bananas                15 - 36 days                           Pears                       7 - 14 days

                  Grapes                   7 - 10 days                            Broccoli                   6 - 20 days

                  Cherries                14 - 28 days                           Mangoes                  20 - 40 days

                  Beef (ground)        3 - 20 days                            Turkey (sliced)           14 - 24 days

                  Beef (steak)         14 - 23 days                            Lamb (steak)             8 - 13 days

                  Chicken (sliced)     7 - 20 days                             Cheese                      190 - 280 days

                  Fish (various)     7-12 days                                  Cucumber (cut) 3-14 days

*Source Laurel McEwan & Ass USA


What packaging technologists know (that the general public doesn’t) is these major increases in shelf life are achieved by some remarkable technically innovative packaging solutions, just two examples of which would be gas flushing and laser perforation. Then there are some equally innovative variations on standard packaging films. These include surface treatments such as metallization and PVdC/Acrylic coatings, through to 6-8 ply laminates and multi-layer co-extrusions.

All of these developments are designed to enhance food shelf life and ensure the customer receives the contents of the pack in the peak of condition. Much of this so called ‘single use plastic packaging’ saves millions of tonnes of food waste which not only enables perishable food to be delivered to the consumer in peak condition but also to use it many days and sometimes weeks later. This is thanks to the benefits bestowed by ‘single use plastic.’

 However, these figures suggest that just as in the case of plastic waste, the consumer is far from diligent in the way they treat these valuable products, discarding both food and plastic waste with impunity, whilst at the same time supporting the idea that the government should ‘Take action’ to punish film manufacturers and food producers who are involved in supply.


Courtauld Agreement

The current popular proposals regarding the use of plastic packaging, suggesting it should be reduced, eliminated altogether or replaced is totally counterproductive to the 3 major commitments made by the 53 signatories to the Courtauld Agreement namely,

  1. Reduce packaging waste by 20% - 2015/25
  2. Reduce food waste by 20% - 2015/25
  3. Reduce by 20% the resource needed to provide food and drink by 2015/25


The Courtauld agreement was hailed as a landmark commitment by environmentalists. However, replacing lightweight plastic packaging with any of the alternative packaging materials currently available, be they paper, board, glass or tin, would undoubtedly go diametrically against the principle objectives of the Courtauld Agreement and result in more food waste, more CO2 emissions and greater use of resources.


Alternative Films

Similarly, the suggestion that biodegradable, compostable alternative films can match the current film substrates used to reduce food waste is fanciful to say the least. 80% Of all current OPP, PE, PET is recyclable, unfortunately in the U.K we just don’t have the will or local authority infrastructure to collect and separate these films, so what chance would we have of separating compostable/biodegradable alternatives?

Meanwhile we and our politicians accept that countries such as China, India, Indonesia etc. simply dispose of their domestic refuse by just dumping it in their rivers to be washed out to sea without rebuke.


Proposed Solution

Unless we discover another wonder material as an alternative to plastic, or a new universal polymer why can’t we all be honest with the public and support the use of plastic packaging? The material can be recycled and is a fantastic source of energy currently stored in solid form. It just happens to be a bi-product of the oil refining process and is therefore not a precious commodity, but it is a very special material.


Elsewhere around the World more plastic is incinerated in combined heat and power plants than in the UK. Plastic is a wonderful catalyst in the combustion process of burning waste and has a higher calorific content than coal. It is in fact a perfect fuel when we need more clean energy worldwide. In addition, those countries disposing of waste in the worlds oceans should be sanctioned not just by the UK but the United Nations, this is a major third world pollution problem.


 There we have it: -          

  • Plastic is the perfect packaging material
  • Plastic is low cost and lightweight
  • Plastic is 80% recyclable. The remaining plastics are the perfect material for conversion to clean energy


Therefore, if we genuinely want to reduce both food waste and CO²emissions – Use plastic packaging


As ever your views on any of the issues raised would be welcome and why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular discussions and contact.


1 Comment

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Tony Mantell

Excellent summarisation of the current dilemma facing governments, industries and consumers.....Best I've seen yet....Well done. Regards

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