In recent years, food waste has arisen as a major topic as we come to terms with feeding an extra two billion people by the middle of this century. Rather than just relying on additional food production to feed a growing planet, the opportunity to reduce or prevent post-harvest food waste offers an attractive option to wage a war on food waste.
Therefore, reducing food waste has becoming a theme for rallying the support of consumer groups, commercial enterprises and even governmental bodies. Estimates of food waste from farm to fork range as high as 50% of the food that is produced. While the prospect of reducing wasted food appears to create significant opportunities to feed more people, it is really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall benefits.
Consider for example, the vast amount of resources that have gone into the production of the food that is wasted. The amount of water, fertilizers, feed and energy used for equipment and facilities is effectively reduced, by minimizing the amount of food that is wasted post-harvest. In addition, the energy and materials used in transporting, storing, processing and refrigerating food in the supply chain is more effectively utilized. Finally, the wasted food itself does not make its way to landfills where it occupies space and decomposes to produce carbon dioxide and methane greenhouse gases.
But how can food waste be reduced? Waste is an inherent result of the way we must move food from the farm to the plate. It is widely recognized that, in developed countries, consumers are the most wasteful part of the entire supply chain. But consumers don’t consciously decide to waste food. Making consumers aware of the food waste issue can have some benefit but what is needed is a change in the way food is transported, purchased, stored and used. The food supply chain represents a complex system and solutions are needed that can optimize across that supply chain by minimizing overall waste production all the way to the consumer. This optimization is typically not without cost—it requires investment in solutions whose value must outweigh their cost. Food packaging systems are an example of one such strategy to maximize food utilization while minimizing waste from the point of production all the way to consumption.
Surprisingly, innovative packaging systems are often overlooked as a solution to the food waste challenge. However, packaging represents a powerful means to prevent unintended food loss across the supply chain. To properly apply packaging solutions to reduce food waste, it is important to understand both why food is being wasted (root cause) as well as where it is being wasted (stage in supply chain).