Less packaging, less waste

OTTAWA — Researchers spend a lot of time and effort trying to develop packaging to help prevent food waste. And for good reason.

In 2009, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 32 percent of food produced in the world is never eaten — lost to waste in one form or another.

It is not only a loss to people who could eat it for sustenance, but it also presents a loss of revenue and resources for those who produced it, said Terry Grills, director of sustainability at Sealed Air, a company that developed Cryovac food packaging and bubble wrap.

“We in our industries have in-vested a lot in raising this important food and it is critical that it not be wasted,” she said at the annual meeting of the Canadian Meat Council held in Ottawa June 5-7.

“One out of every four calories goes to waste.”

Sometimes food loss is due to contamination from disease or insects. At other times, products do not get to market on time because of lack of infrastructure.

However, far more food is lost because it is the wrong shape, the date code has expired or it spoiled in the store or at home.

Grill’s company surveyed about 100 retailers who said their biggest expense is food waste compared to labour, theft and energy costs. If they could eliminate food waste from their operation they would increase their profits by 10 percent.

“I believe that one of the solutions is to use proper packaging,” she said.

New packages may employ vacuum packaging with a thin film cover to remove the air around the food. That thin film can extend the shelf life of disposable foods three to five times longer than normal.

Properly packaged green beans can go from seven to 19 days and plastic-wrapped cucumbers last for up to 14 days compared to three days for loose ones.

“The packaging that you may choose to use if you are a cheese producer will be very different from the thin film you use if you are packaging beef or packaging fish,” she said.

Meat is commonly placed on a Styrofoam tray with a plastic wrap that is easily damaged and can leak. It may need to be rewrapped and store staff must constantly clean meat cases to prevent cross contamination.

People often ask if this type of packaging can be recycled or is biodegradable. However, there is a greater benefit to the environment if the food does not spoil and end up in a landfill.

“This tiny carbon footprint protects a huge investment of the food it is protecting. People generally don’t think about it this way,” she said.

Packages that can be reclosed or vacuum packaged meat could help reduce that waste. Often people buy a large quantity of meat and repackage it into smaller portions. However, they may have removed the films that kept the meat fresher.

“They don’t know the package that was originally provided to them had a benefit in preservation,” she said.

Consumers need to be educated about packaging and potential food waste so they can make better decisions, she added.

In the United Kingdom, a program called Love Food, Hate Waste has been started to educate consumers about food waste, and teach them how to store and use food differently.

In 2014, the city of Vancouver and 23 surrounding municipalities signed a deal for the U.K. campaign to encourage consumers to throw out less edible food.

The program may be seen at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.

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