How can packaging solve the food waste issue?

How can packaging solve the food waste issue?
That the public can have total faith in the foods they buy has been made possible by packaging

The executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), Martin Kersh, discusses the issue of food waste and the steps being taken to solve this important issue.

Since the Foodservice Packaging Association was formed in 1992 it has become the voice of the industry representing members’ interests at UK national, regional and local levels. The pressures on the industry are ever increasing, be it material supply/cost, political policy, environmental regulation, consumer pressure or media exposure.

The FPA’s role is to ensure a fair voice for the industry and lobbies government, has places on key government committees, makes representations to government and parliamentary committees and key stakeholder groups. It also liaises and works with other trade bodies and NGOs.

The FPA also undertakes and funds specific activity to ensure a balanced view is heard in parliament, in the media, and in public. This includes working with top level research and management consultants to ensure its voice is heard.

FPA members include single use foodservice packaging manufacturers, distributors, foodservice operators (including contract caterers and retails brands) and waste processors.

All FPA members commit to abide by the FPA Code of Practice which reflects the organisation’s values. Members confirm that their products meet relevant legislation and regulations and they hold accreditations and provide evidence for any claims made. Customers purchasing from FPA members have the assurance of responsible business practice.

Speaking to Government Europa, the FPA’s Executive Director, Martin Kersh, discusses the issue of food waste and the steps being taken to solve this important issue.

Food security and waste are two of the prevalent concerns amongst society. In what way can technology be applied to packaging in order to change the way that we package and sell foods to consumers?

Feeding our nation and indeed the world must transcend all other issues. Providing sufficient food means every scrap of food the world produces must reach its population and be used. This requirement isn’t simple and is challenged by high levels of food loss, with food not even making it to market and by the nature of those in the west and the affluent and growing middle classes in the rest of the world who enjoy choice but fail to use all the food they buy. To some extent, food waste is an indication of their affluence. Of course, food is also wasted by those less affluent because they are unable to benefit from refrigeration.

Having enough food to feed the world is just one part of the equation. Food must get to homes undamaged and unblemished and as fresh as possible so that the world’s population can have total confidence in the safety of the food they buy.

UK citizens enjoy a huge choice in food and can have full confidence in the fresh foods they purchase, knowing they are safe and, provided they store them at home correctly, do not need to consume them the same day. This is a far cry from 60 years ago, where choice was limited and only by giving meat a good sniff did you know it was safe to eat.

That the public can have total faith in the foods they buy has been made possible by packaging. Packaging has given the UK population vast choice, more information and total security and confidence. Of course, there are food scares and so packaging can’t sit back and assume the job is done. There are further improvements to be made, particularly in keeping fresh foods fresher for even longer and in strengthening packaging so that greater quantities can be transported but using less packaging, thereby giving the population what it requires: good quality, safe food at the lowest possible price.

These improvements are coming under challenge with demands for even more packaging light-weighting and the move against plastics. Indeed, the latter poses a huge threat to the ability to feed the UK population safely and without food loss and waste and comes at a time when the UK faces its worst crisis with regard to its ability to feed the population, namely Brexit.

One of the great ironies of the plastics debate is the move towards plant-based materials, which is resulting in some communities around the globe going hungry as their local land is used to grow crops to provide the west with packaging rather than to feed the domestic population.

With regard to fresh foods, we believe technology such as ‘Modified Atmosphere Packaging’ (MAP) will be applied to an even wider range of applications to extend their shelf life. Sandwiches are a very good example of where MAP packaging gives food a greatly extended shelf life and reduces waste. This is very important for those non specialist sandwich retailers now freed from the need to order sandwiches daily. However, MAP requires the use of plastics.

Of great importance to the consumer is the ability to see the food they buy. It’s hard to imagine how this can be achieved without plastic. Meat and fish are excellent examples, bearing in mind that the packing of both, in wrapped trays, has enabled more people to afford them. Steak is now affordable by more people than ever before.

The food producers and their packaging suppliers devote huge sums to research and development, and readers can have full confidence that new technology will keep food in top condition for longer. However, I fear that the superb progress made in this direction will slow down as packaging technologists are forced to seek alternatives to plastic. Many solutions to do so are simply not as effective, and it is very likely that we will be going backwards over the next few years with regard to packaging effectiveness.

It is hard to believe that governments, while wishing to reduce plastics, will not tolerate an increase in food waste under their watch. The fundamental point here is that the carbon footprint of food and drink dwarfs that of its packaging.

Approximately 88m tonnes of food is wasted annually in the EU. How could digital packaging make a positive impact on such figures?

Sadly, the figure is true – this is two and a half times our body weight for each person. The use of digital printing has enabled greater personalisation and the ability to enable shorter print runs. To a greater extent, digital packaging provides added value and flexibility and shorter lead times. It is growing with regard to food because the issue of food safe inks for digital printing has been solved. I see this development as adding to choice with more specialist foods being made available and the opportunity for more producers to enter the market. This could include farmers who not only grow but also process and pack, as well as more cottage industry type producers.

As such, digital packaging will not make an inroad on reducing food waste with the exception of greater opportunities for intelligent labelling. Intelligent labelling is being designed to give a more accurate indication of whether food is safe to eat, with the ability to give a warning that the food must be consumed now otherwise it will be unsafe. This is very important to caterers, particularly as intelligent packaging is able to detect when a food is in or out of the fridge. I would hope digital printing will reduce the cost of intelligent packaging. Intelligent packaging will have a greater influence on reducing food waste than digital printing.

How is the Foodservice Packaging Association participating in discussions in regard to innovative packaging, food waste and food security?

The FPA is closely involved with retailers, food producers and packaging suppliers. We work very closely with the catering and hospitality sectors as well as WRAP with whom we form part of the Hospitality and Foodservice Agreement – a highly effective drive to reduce food waste in the hospitality sector.

Martin Kersh
Executive Director
Foodservice Packaging Association
+44 1242 282000
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