How much of food produced across the world is thrown out? The answer might shock many. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), around a third of the food produced for human consumption in the world is wasted - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes. This is a significant squandering of resources, from water, energy and land used to the labour and capital required. The huge level of wastage can be prevented and plastic food packaging has and will continue to play a huge role in cutting food waste.
The Importance of Packaging for PreservationThe impact packaging has had on the way we store food is incredible. Food undergoes a lot of stress and strain to survive the journey to our plates, particularly today as produce travels significant distances from farms in far-away regional areas to supermarkets in metropolitan areas. Cheap, durable, reliable packaging like that made from plastic significantly increases the lifespan of food and protects it from external contaminants. By reducing food wastage to a huge extent, less greenhouse gas emissions are generated overall.
Benefits of Plastic PackagingPlastic has inherent characteristics which allow for a lighter overall environmental footprint. It’s lightweight and flexible, yet tough, meaning more can be transported in lighter loads. More importantly for food, it provides crucial barriers to dirt, unfriendly temperatures, oxygen, moisture, microbes, light and critters. Some specific benefits of plastic packaging according to Global News Wire includes:
- The ability of ultrathin plastic film to block transmission of oxygen, increasing the shelf life of fresh meat to 21 days or more.
- Factory sealed plastic containers locking out air, preventing freezer burn and keeping out unpleasant odours and flavours, all of which reduce waste and help preserve the flavour, nutrients and texture of the food.
- Vacuum packaging preventing the discolouration of meats and extending shelf life 10 times longer than store-wrapped meat, generating a 75 per cent decrease in food waste.
The Problem with Packaging AlternativesWe’ve emphasised the importance of the lightweight, yet strong nature of plastic being crucial for sustainable food packaging. But just how much better is it than the alternatives? If all plastic packaging was suddenly replaced with alternatives today, findings indicate that packaging would:
- Need 450 per cent more material by weight.
- Require 80 per cent more energy to produce annually.
- Increase emissions by 130 per cent - the equivalent of add 15.7 million cars to the road.