Food packaging company Sealed Air commissioned a two-year study to find out what consumers thought about food waste and food loss in Australia's retail environment. Vice president of sustainability Ron Cotterman discussed the results at the Foodpro trade show in Sydney this week.
One-third of all food produced – nearly nine million tonnes – ends up in garbage bins across Australia and New Zealand, only to make its way to landfill.
This was one of several key findings of Sealed Air's study, which has shone a spotlight on the problem – and the part packaging can play in sustainability.
In his talk, Cotterman said sustainability needed to be interwoven into the business goals of every company and brand.
“Businesses need to be thinking up solutions that address waste,” he said.
“One third of our food is never consumed, and our food waste makes up a quarter of the landfill our world produces.”
Cotterman said food waste was largely due to spoilage – that is, food that had gone past its 'best before' date.
“This wasn't as big an issue when we were eating large quantities of dried or canned food, but consumers are now turning to whole foods and eating much more fresh food, so this [trend] is contributing to food waste,” he said.
He said grocery retailers were very concerned about food waste (or 'food shrink'), and retailers consulted for the study could safely predict a four per cent profit increase if food waste was addressed properly.
“In Australia, 83 per cent believed shelf life was critical to reducing shrink,” he said.
Sealed Air has concluded that purchasing products in packaging that can be resealed is vital to addressing the problem.
Other solutions include:
- Longer best-before dates on packs
- The portioning of products for flexible meals
- Education of consumers that packaging is not the enemy – it can keep food fresher for longer rather than letting it go to waste.
“The idea that packaging can keep food fresher longer is simply not embedded in consumers' minds in terms of food waste,” Cotterman said.
“Consumers interviewed for the study believed packaging was worse for food waste.
“But it can be argued that food waste is actually worse on the environment than packaging.
"Packaging helps you avoid food waste.
“Consumers in the study would rather buy a fresh cucumber than a shrink-wrapped cucumber, despite the fact the shrink wrapping would help it last longer and ensure the whole vegetable is consumed.”
Cotterman said packaging companies need to educate consumers on shelf life to the same degree that recycling has been pushed and promoted.
“[We found that] 78 per cent of consumers want brands to use packaging that reduces food waste,” he said.
He believes we should be embracing best-before date labelling that reduces confusion, recognising that many products can actually be used safely beyond the 'magic date'.
“Not only do we need to communicate how packaging retains freshness and promotes food safety; we also need to explain the importance of shelf life, portioning and temperature control in home fridges,” Cotterman said.
“We also need to be using digital technologies that track resources, monitor utilisation, and identify sources of waste.
“And we need improved cold chains that reduce spoilage and enable new distribution channels."