How to Reduce Food Waste with Food Packaging?

Global Food Waste Issue

Food waste is a global problem requiring a real solution. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported 14% of produced food products were lost from the harvesting process up to retail in 2019 (FAO, 2019), while 17% of food reaching the consumer level from retails were wasted in 2021, according to United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP, 2021).  The food losses caused substantial economic loss, estimated at USD 400 billion. About 931 million tons of food were wasted in 2019, coming from households (61%), food service (26%), and retail (13%).  Almost 10% of global food waste originated from the EU, equal to 174 kg per person, generating 170 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the environment.

The problem is not only from the wasted and lost food products thrown into the environment, but the energy used to produce them is also wasted. Therefore, food waste and loss have contributed to increasing greenhouse emissions, about 8% to 10%, in our environment, mainly resulting from the resources used to produce the waste and lost products. Energy losses mostly occur in the food supply, reaching 51%, followed by, at the consumer level, around 31 % (Figure 1) (Verghese et al., 2015). The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations (UN) number 12 aims to reduce food waste, especially at the retail and consumer levels, and to reduce food loss during supply chains after food product harvesting. (FAO, 2019) reports the importance of food product handling after harvesting since the food products are perishable and prone to be spoiled by environmental factors, such as temperature, air, moisture, physical damage, etc. The urgency of handling food products aims to ensure the food products are safe during distribution until at the consumer level. Food packaging has an important role in extending food shelf life and keeping the safety and quality of food within the food chain, thereby reducing food waste.

food packaging

Figure 1. Weekly energy consumption of food per one person, adapted from (Verghese et al., 2015)

How does Food Packaging help to reduce food waste?

Food packaging can be viewed as a tool to decrease food waste in the future food supply chain and save the environment from the perilous effects of climate change by protecting the resources required to grow and produce it (Figure 2). Food packaging reducing food waste basically plays a role in food shelf-life extension. Food packaging mainly protects the food from contamination, such as chemical, biological, and physical damage. The protection keeps the food safe during the food chain and results in shelf-life extension in a more extended period. Besides, the protection keeps the quality, safety, and nutrition of the food, so the packaged food products are still consumable by consumers. Each packaging has a different role in food protection by considering the factors causing food spoilage. For example, fruits undergo spoiled due to the presence respiration process. In this case, removing oxygen is crucial to prevent the rapid respiration of the fruits. These aspects will be further explored in the next section. Therefore, it’s critical to create packaging that appropriately protects food while enabling customer usage of the product.

food packaging

Figure 2. Two sides of food packaging roles in reducing food waste.

Food packaging is crucial in informing consumers about expired dates or conditions of packaged food products. In this case, the consumers should have more awareness to reduce food waste by consuming the food before getting spoiled.  Relying on consumer awareness is becoming a challenge since t high population of consumers w

Types of Advanced Food Packaging (Active and Intelligent Packaging)

Development of food packaging is continuously increasing since the importance of shelf-life extension and the safety of food products during the supply chain. Nowadays, food packaging is not only produced to be a containment or convenience for consumers once the products are purchased but it should be ensured that the products are safe. In the past, many processed food products were preserved by adding preservatives to prevent the growth of spoilage microorganisms by controlling food products’ pH and water activity(Bahmid et al., 2021). However, there are deep concerns about the preservative use by consumers due to potential risks for human health. Flora Southey, (2021); Osaili et al., (2023) reports around 60% of people in Germany and Uni Emirates Arab (UEA) prevent the consumption of food additives due to a risk to human health. Recently, food packaging has been developed by adding food preservatives, such as essential oil, into the food packaging material. This approach is called active packaging. This system is defined as a packaging system that actively affects the product’s internal environment and actively changes the packed food’s condition to extend shelf-life or improve safety or sensory properties while maintaining the quality of packaged food. As a part of the system, the active components may be part of the packaging material or could be inserted or attached to the inside (Bahmid, 2021).

The active packaging system consists of

  • Ethylene scavengers
  • Oxygen scavengers
  • Antioxidant packaging
  • Carbon dioxide emitters
  • Antimicrobial Packaging
  • Moisture absorbers

Those packaging systems are developed by adding active agents to inhibit the effects of oxygen, moisture, carbon dioxide, microbe, and free radicals that cause spoilage on food products. The effectiveness of the packaging depends on the selection of the active packaging use and the quality attribute of food products. It means that if the products, such as chips containing high oil content, get spoiled or off-flavor due to oxygen, the best way to prolong the shelf life is by adding an oxygen scavenger to remove oxygen inside the packaging system. This system is shown in Figure 3.

food packaging

Figure 3. Removal of oxygen inside the packaging system using oxygen scavenger

The same system happens for other types of active food packaging. Bahmid et al., (2021) studied the effects of materials incorporated with ground mustard seeds on lean ground beef stored at refrigerated temperatures.  Quality attributes indicator of beef is microbial spoilage, which requires an antimicrobial agent to inhibit the prolonged microorganism growing on food products. Mustard seeds releasing Allyl isothiocyanates, a strong antimicrobial compound incorporated in film material, can inhibit bacterial growth and prolong the ground meat shelf life, around 3.5 days. This active packaging system has an important role in protection from the product point of view, seen in Figure 2.

Intelligent packaging provides a different system to active packaging, which provides real-time information about the packaged food’s condition. This type of packaging system uses a sensor or indicator that can be changed according to the food condition, as shown in Figure 4. This system is important since the quality of food products usually is not constant during the supply chain. Using the expired date system can incorrectly predict the actual expired date. The incorrect date can cause a risk for the consumer once they purchase the food products and lose their trust in the products’ producers. Therefore, giving the real-time condition of packaged products with intelligent sensors or indicators can guarantee the consumer the safety and quality of the packaged food products. Understanding the real-time condition of food products can expect a reduction in food products.

Figure 4. Sensors and indicators for intelligent packaging system https://www.nanopack.eu/2018/02/09/future-packaging-already/

Shelf-Life extension benefits in Food Waste Reduction and Profits

Shelf-life extension can relate to food waste reduction. Prolonging the shelf life of food give more time for food products producers to sell their food products. As discussed in the previous section, food products are prone to spoilage during the supply chain, especially after harvesting. Without packaging, most food products can be maintained for 2-3 days at room temperature and 6-7 days in low-temperature storage. For the company producing food products on an industrial scale, the food products should be stored longer to give more time to sell the products.

An interesting study relates shelf-life extension with food waste reduction, production cost, and profit (Wilson, 2013).  The study shows that extending two days of shelf life using a modified atmosphere packaging system reduces food waste by about 8%, from 13.6% to 4.9%. Even though the cost increase by 0.09 Euros, the profit elevates by 0.40 Euros. Many factors influence those costs, waste reduction, and profits, but this data shows the urgency of shelf-life extension.

What are the Challenging Aspects of Food Packaging

Packaging has an important role in reducing food waste in the supply chain. However, the high concern of plastic waste accumulating in the environment, especially in the sea, is still a big issue since the food packaging plastic normally used for a package cannot be quickly degraded in the landfill, sea, and the environment. Packaging wastes have less influence on greenhouse gas emissions, but plastic waste can cause a risk and threat to human food sources, like fish and livestock animals (Siddiqui et al., 2023). This issue will be discussed in the upcoming topic series “Effects of food packaging plastic waste on human health and the environment.”

The balance between the environmental and health effects of packaging plastics should be implemented in the future. It is important to consider properly using food packaging so the packaging is effective in prolonging the food’s shelf life. In the case of plastic packaging’s effects on the environment, all countries in the world must design and manage plastic waste sustainably by implementing the circular economy potential of the food packaging chain so no plastic waste is accumulated in the environment and pollutes the sea and human food source.

Further reading

Smart Packaging Functionality and Benefits

Smart Packaging Application in Bakery Products

Potential risks of food packaging plastic waste on human health and the environment

References

Bahmid, N. A. (2021). Antimicrobial packaging design: Exploring the potential of allyl isothiocyanate release from mustard seeds. https://doi.org/10.18174/539717

Bahmid, N. A., Dekker, M., Fogliano, V., & Heising, J. (2021). Development of a moisture-activated antimicrobial film containing ground mustard seeds and its application on meat in active packaging system. Food Packaging and Shelf Life, 30, 100753. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.FPSL.2021.100753

FAO. (2019). The State of Food and Agriculture 2019. Moving forward on food loss and waste reduction. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. In FAO. 2019. The State of Food and Agriculture 2019. Moving forward on food loss and waste reduction. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Flora Southey. (2021). What do consumers think about food additives? https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2021/09/22/What-do-consumers-think-about-food-additives

Osaili, T. M., Obaid, R. S., Alkayyali, S. A. I., Ayman, H., Bunni, S. M., Alkhaled, S. B., Hasan, F., Mohamad, M. N., & Ismail, L. C. (2023). Consumers’ knowledge and attitudes about food additives in the UAE. PLOS ONE, 18(3), e0282495. https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0282495

Siddiqui, S. A., Bahmid, N. A., Salman, S. H. M., Nawaz, A., Walayat, N., Shekhawat, G. K., Gvozdenko, A. A., Blinov, A. V., & Nagdalian, A. A. (2023). Migration of microplastics from plastic packaging into foods and its potential threats on human health. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 103, 313–359. https://doi.org/10.1016/BS.AFNR.2022.07.002

UNEP. (2021). UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021. UN Environment Programme.

Verghese, K., Lewis, H., Lockrey, S., & Williams, H. (2015). Packaging’s Role in Minimizing Food Loss and Waste Across the Supply Chain. Packaging Technology and Science, 28(7). https://doi.org/10.1002/pts.2127

Wilson, C. (2013). Influences of Modified Atmosphere Packaging and Drip Absorbent on The Quality, Safety, and Acceptability of Fresh-Cut Cantaloupe. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 6(11), 951–952.

 

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