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Waste away

Food waste is a massive problem today. But the right packaging can have a major and positive impact on helping to reduce this.

According to WRAP annual food waste from UK households, the hospitality and food service, food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors in 2018 was around 9.5 million tonnes, 70% of which was intended to be consumed by people. 

Boston Consulting Group goes on to say that globally by 2030 the amount of food wasted each year is expected to have risen by around a third, which means that 2.1 billion tonnes will either be lost or thrown away – the horrifying equivalent of 66 tonnes per second; whilst the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation states that a third of all food produced is wasted before it even reaches the consumer.

This is a terrible problem and one that can not be solved by any one thing, but packaging has a massive roll to play in reducing that waste.

Now, food and packaging professionals who recognise the importance of packaging in achieving a sustainable food supply chain, have said that as consumers many of them still feel ill informed about the subject.

This was one of the findings of an online survey ‘Food Packaging vs Waste – Moving Towards a Circular Economy’, organised by the Advanced Services Group at Aston University and sponsored by Ishida Europe.

Shelf life

When asked ‘How important do you consider food packaging to be in achieving a sustainable food supply chain’, all respondents rated it of high or critical importance. However, as consumers, as many as 45% felt they were ‘not informed’ or had ‘a low know-ledge level’ regarding the packaging used, its recyclability and the shelf life of the food they bought.

The findings underline the inherent challenges for the food industry in meeting the need to minimise food waste while utilising the most sustainable packaging solution, which was the basis for the ‘Food Packaging vs Waste’ debate. 

A selection of topics were discussed during the event, including what sustainability means in the context of food and food packaging and whether innovations in packaging can help to cut down on waste, particularly with the current focus on the need to reduce plastic packaging. There was also consideration of the most significant consumer trends in relation to food packaging, the role of packaging information in the move towards a circular economy, and the potential commercial issues involved in addressing food waste.

What is ‘sustainable’?

Among the challenges and issues identified, the panel agreed that the term ‘sustainable’ means different things, particularly in terms of consumers and businesses. Individuals have specific ideas of sustainability – for example being recyclable or made of paper – some of which are factual and some of which are notional; companies need to take into account the benefits of sustainability actions for their business as well as for wider society and how these actions impact on their financial performance. It was recognised that many initiatives have cost implications throughout the supply chain and for the end consumer.

While packaging’s role in helping to reduce food waste was crucial, the discussion also focused on the complexities involved, given the many different characteristics and protection requirements of different foods. As well as the design of the pack and appropriate choice of material for its manufacture, end of life considerations were equally critical, such as collection and sorting for recycling and cleaning for reuse. It was pointed out that the incorporation of recycled material into new packs could have performance issues that might impact on the speeds of filling lines.


A recurring theme throughout the debate was the need for collab-oration in tackling the problems of food waste. The importance of businesses, governments, NGOs, industry associations and charit-able organisations working together was seen as vital in best overcoming many of the challenges identified. Both regulation and voluntary measures were considered important. It was also acknowledged that competition among commercial organisations could help to drive change.

In addition, greater consumer engagement and education were necessary. Although in the UK great strides have already been made to reduce food waste in the home, many consumers are still unaware of the amount of food that they throw away.

Boston Consulting Group -

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