On April 22, 2020, two peer-reviewed scientific articles were published investigating the environmental impacts of food packaging. In the first article, researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands review the current situation and trends related to reusable packaging. In the second article, researchers from Karlstad University in Sweden explore the role packaging plays in preventing or contributing to food waste in households.
Packaging in Europe is reported as being responsible for 40% of plastic use, 50% of paper use, and 36% of municipal solid waste. The authors of the first article argue this is linked to significant environmental impacts, and reusable approaches have been suggested as options to help to reduce these impacts. The study reviews the “background, opportunities for and experiences with reusable packaging” and aims to “help identify potentials to reduce the environmental impacts, as well as the barriers to implementation of integrated reusable packaging systems.” Following the increase of single-use packaging over the past decades, the authors are concerned about the environmental impacts caused by this increase and recommend the trend be changed. While the study found that more knowledge is available regarding business to business applications of reusable packaging systems, it identifies that more research is needed into business to customer applications to discern market segments and explore new opportunities. It also introduces a classification for reusable packaging systems and recommends developing decision support models to consider alternative designs for reusable packaging.
The second study focuses on understanding the relationship between food packaging and food waste through studying a group of consumers’ everyday practices using a questionnaire, food waste diary, and interviews. An analysis of 37 consumer households found that packaging plays a significant role in food wastage, especially in the food categories of dairy, meat, staple foods, and bread. By far the most common reason for consumers to throw away food was that it had gone bad (e.g. molding, rotting). Other common reasons included that the packaging was difficult to empty, that the consumer was uncertain about the product safety and labeling of the expiration date, and that the packaging was too large. Overall, 28% percent of generated food waste is found to be attributed directly to the packaging, with an additional 21% possibly linked to packaging functions. The study identified that food waste could be reduced by selling food in an appropriate packaging size that meets the consumer’s needs and by ensuring clear communication on the packaging about product safety and storage.
Katy Askew (May 4, 2020). “‘Smarter packaging’ to tackle food waste ‘better for climate’ than eliminating plastics: Study.” Food Navigator
Coelho, P. et al. (April 22, 2020). “Sustainability of reusable packaging–Current situation and trends.” Resources, Conservation & Recycling. 6 (100037).
Williams, H. et al. (April 22, 2020). “Avoiding food becoming waste in households – The role of packaging in consumers’ practices across different food categories.” Journal of Cleaner Production. 265 (121775).