January/February 2021

Food packaging innovation to prevent food waste
By Sean Riley, PMMI

When combined, packaging and unconsumed food account for almost half of the items landfilled in the United States, with some of these discarded materials causing double damage as food-related packaging and containers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Foodservice establishments generate a significant amount of wasted food and packaging, per the EPA, with between four and 10% of food purchased by food service operations in the U.S. thrown out before reaching plates. By reducing the amount of food and packaging discarded, these establishments can significantly reduce their waste stream and save money. To reduce food reaching landfills, save money and help communities, the EPA created a Guide for Reducing Wasted Food and Packaging.

The guide’s first step in reducing food waste is to measure and track the amount, type of and reason for the food and packaging being discarded. Businesses and consumers can accomplish this rather simply by using a thorough food and packaging assessment as a foundation for reduction efforts. It is important to understand more than just the quantity of total waste generated in order to create targeted and successful interventions that reduce wasted food and packaging. Information on the waste type (for example, peppers or onions) and reason for loss (for example, overpreparation or spoilage) is important to make meaningful changes. Additionally, tracking when the material is generated can also provide useful information to target specific causes for wasted food and packaging.

Source reduction, or waste prevention, is the most effective way of reducing the environmental impact of wasted food and food packaging because it prevents unneeded materials from ever being created. Waste prevention saves the most money by reducing purchasing costs, handling costs and disposal fees.

As with wasted food, there are many benefits to reducing the amount of wasted packaging. First and foremost, consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies can  lower costs by employing strategies that allow less packaging materials. For consumers, buying food in larger quantities can reduce the related packaging but is a tricky application in practice as it can also lead to food waste. This strategy is particularly useful for condiments and non-perishable food items such as sugar, grains, oils, spices, etc.

A more passive change for minimizing food waste in the short term is a simple printing change courtesy of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). Led by the CEOs of 50 major food brands, including Nestlé, Kellogg, Walmart, PepsiCo and Campbell Soup Company, this network of 400 of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies, voted unanimously in 2017 to standardize expiration labels by 2021.

The new labels will eliminate confusion by weaning off of terms like “Sell by,” “Best before” and “Good until.” Instead, food companies will commit to a simple “Use by” date on perishable foods and a “Best if used by” statement to indicate food quality. This simple change can be instituted at the label level without anything more than printing a few changed words.

New technologies, solutions and education addressing the changing landscape of food waste and food packaging waste are abundant at PACK EXPO Connects, a digital platform produced by PMMI Media Group. Equipment demos, educational content and valuable industry insights are accessible to view at your convenience until March 31, 2021. 

Offering vetted suppliers, PACK EXPO Connects is an easily searchable marketplace of over 700 leading solution providers in a diverse range of industries, serving as a resource for the most advanced packaging innovations. For more information and to access the solutions, visit packexpoconnects.com. Next up in the PACK EXPO Portfolio of Trade Shows is EXPO PACK México (June 8-11, 2021), followed by PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO (Sept. 27-29, 2021). More details to follow in the coming months. In the meantime, for more information, visit www.packexpo.com.

— Sean Riley is the senior director of media and industry communications for PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

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