How smarter plastic packaging helps to reduce food waste

smarter plastic packaging


The figures are mind-boggling: Food loss and waste is an enormous environmental problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ “Global Food Losses and Food Waste” report, roughly one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. That’s nearly 1.3 billion tonnes each year, representing a value of approximately US$680 billion in industrialized countries, and US$310 billion in developing countries. By significantly extending shelf life and preventing damage during transportation, plastic food packaging plays a key role in reducing the loss and waste of food.

Food loss and waste represents 8.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions

Food loss and waste squanders precious resources, including water, land, energy, labour, and capital, as well as needlessly producing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Representing 8.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions, food waste is responsible for nearly as much emissions as road transport. In fact, if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. 1.

Reducing food waste

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, “packaging plays a critical role in protecting products and resources, and often helps reduce and prevent waste – especially when it comes to food.”

Plastic food packaging reduces food waste by preventing damage during transport, and significantly extending shelf life. The maximum shelf life of beef is extended from up to three days for beef sold in butcher paper to 21 days for beef sold in pre-sealed plastic packaging. It’s important to note, however, that the plastic material used for the packaging has a tremendous effect on how well it preserves food.

While traditional polyethylene (PE) films help some, they lead to more wasted food than multi-layer films that combine PE with polyamide 6 (PA6), because the oxygen barrier and puncture resistance properties of PE films do not come close to the performance of multi-layer PE/PA6 films.

PA6 forms an effective barrier against oxygen in multi-layer packaging, for a significantly longer shelf life for products like meat and cheese. Its high puncture resistance sharply reduces food damage during transport, which is particularly important for rice, bony meat, fish, chicken and frozen foods. Its excellent oxygen barrier properties prolong food shelf life during the transportation, retail and consumer phases of the food value chain.

Impact of food waste high compared to plastic packaging
Now you’re thinking, “what about the impact of the plastic packaging?” The carbon footprint of food loss and waste is on average five times higher than the impact of producing or optimizing the plastic packaging involved, making the benefits of avoiding emissions by preventing food waste far outweigh the environmental impacts of producing or optimizing the packaging involved.

Nevertheless, if not disposed of properly, plastic packaging waste feeds another critical environmental issue: the plastic garbage patches floating in our oceans. At DSM, we find this threat to our ecosystem unacceptable, and work closely with APK to find outlets for high-quality re-granulates from solvent based recycling of complex multi-layer packaging. We are also actively exploring other recycling routes using pyrolysis and gasification technologies slated to launch in 2020 and beyond.

These technologies will provide additional value to plastic packaging, making post-consumer plastics a resource for new solutions, and too valuable to be thrown away. Multi-layer food packaging based on polyamide 6 is a sustainable and effective solution to significantly reduce food loss and waste, helping to avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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