Positive Packaging – an oxymoron

61% of consumers think fruit and vegetables “go off” quicker when in packaging. This statistic from EPA highlights some of the negative connotations associated with packaging. The vital benefits of protection and preservation that packaging provides are often ignored or misunderstood and instead packaging is often viewed as the enemy to sustainability.

The reality is that environmentally responsible packaging is something that is certainly attained or attainable. In fact, in some cases it’s better to increase the packaging used to help reduce food waste or product damage, creating a system which is holistically more sustainable than if less, or no, packaging was used.

Although packaging may require resources and energy, the energy and resources required to manufacture and transport the product are normally always greater than those required for the packaging. This is where use of Life Cycle Analysis becomes invaluable, enabling the entire system to be understood and evaluated. In many cases packaging designed to protect and preserve the product actually helps utilise resources by preventing product waste.

Within the food industry there are countless great examples of the benefits of packaging to reduce waste:

• Consumers may question why their cucumber is shrink wrapped in seemingly unnecessary plastic, but these packaged cucumbers last around 5 times longer than their non-packaged counterparts. Apples sold loose leads to 27% more waste produced when compared to those packaged in trays and wrapping.

• The used of Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) – filling a pack with gasses, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen – requires thicker materials in order to provide a sufficient barrier however; use of MAP significantly reduces food waste by prolonging shelf life both in distribution and in customer’s homes.
• Portioned packs and snack packs may seem to use excessive packaging but overall may be a more environmentally option to purchasing one large pack which can’t be resealed effectively and causes food to spoil. It also provides portion control when cooking or serving food helping to prevent excess being made and then thrown away as leftovers.

Hopefully the above examples highlight that packaging when used correctly is not the barrier to sustainability it’s often wrongly portrayed to be. Drawing on this shouldn’t we be asking where we can alter packaging to prevent product waste rather than focusing solely on minimisation?

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