'Reduce waste, buy packaged' crusade looks to bust food waste myths

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A campaign to educate consumers about the role that packaging can play in reducing food waste launched apparently in later summer 2013 to counter negative public perception on the issue.

INCPEN, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, has launched 'The Good, The Bad and The Spudly' initiative in response to growing awareness of wasteful food habits, both in the home and throughout the supply chain.

Jane Bickerstaffe, the director of INCPEN argued that used wisely, packaging kept food fresher for longer and that over the past 20 years, material innovations had come of age.

"Packaging has got cleverer and cleverer at doing more with less," she asserted. "There's always room for improvement, there is some not very good packaging out there but we think it's in the minority. I believe that all parts of the [packaging] supply chain are trying [to be better]."

She also pointed to the fact that in terms of overall resource inputs, packaging accounted for a fraction of the overall food supply chain.

"More than 10 times more resources are invested in making the food than in the few grams of packaging that's used to protect it," she said.

"The packaging is a sensible investment in resources and if manufacturers can use it well, it will keep their costs down as well as their environmental impacts - it's a win-win situation."

Bickerstaffe said one key challenge was to communicate these benefits to the consumer in a way that was meaningful enough to influence  their purchasing habits.

"It's very difficult, people aren't interested in packaging," she acknowledged. "What they want is their food in good condition so that's the message we need to promote - if you want fresh peas, then buy the packaged option, especially frozen."

She added: "People have been fed a diet of 'packaging is bad' - they will avoid packaging and buy unpackaged and wonder why it's gone off."

Questioned about the rising complexity of material use in packaging and the challenges this creates for reprocessing, Bickerstaffe admitted that far more collaboration was needed across the entire supply chain.

"To understand the environmental impact of packaging you have to have to engage with not only the raw material suppliers, the packaging manufacturers, the brands and the retailers - but reprocessors, councils and the waste management sector too."

However she maintained that compared to more recyclable materials, complex packaging such as foil laminate packs was just as environmentally beneficial as they used far less material at the design stage.

I must say that I have never heard as much rubbish but then they do represent the packaging industry, so it is not really a wonder. Though I do agree with the buying of frozen peas and other frozen vegetables as there is no waste aside from the packaging, in the form of a plastic “bag”. Anyone who wants to be frugal could, and I personally do so, reuse such bags as sandwich bags and as those bags are relatively strong they can be washed out and dried and then reused a number of times.

Foils laminate packaging, more often than not, cannot be or is not being recycled simply because it is too difficult or too labor intensive to separate the components and thus the packaging ends up in the landfill.

It is true that, as far as frozen vegetables, for instance are concerned, and they are packaged, for sure, it is less wasteful to use those, and that for more than one reason. First of you use only what you really need and the rest goes back into the freezer and second you do not have any peelings and trimmings, and you also, thus, save financially, as you only pay for the weight that you are actually going to use.

However, as for other packaged foods, I cannot help but disagree with the “findings” of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment and see them as biased towards the industry that it represents. Period. Potatoes packaged in plastic do not, repeat, not keep fresh longer because in most cases they are washed and that treatment causes them to sprout and go off faster, and especially is encased airtight in plastic. But then, as said, they would make such claims as it is a body of the industry that gains from more packaging being used.

© 2015