While food and packaging professionals recognise the importance of packaging in achieving a sustainable food supply chain, as consumers, many of them still feel ill-informed about the subject.
This was one of the findings of an online survey of participants in the recent round table discussion and webinar, ‘Food Packaging vs Waste – Moving Towards a Circular Economy’, organised by the Advanced Services Group at Aston University and sponsored by Ishida Europe.
When asked ‘How important do you consider food packaging to be in achieving a sustainable food supply chain’, all respondents rated it of high or critical importance. However, as consumers, as many as 45% felt they were ‘not informed’ or had ‘a low knowledge level’ regarding the packaging used, its recyclability and the shelf life of the food they bought.
The findings underline the inherent challenges for the food industry in meeting the need to minimise food waste while utilising the most sustainable packaging solution, which was the basis for the ‘Food Packaging vs Waste’ debate.
A wide range of topics was discussed during the event, including what sustainability means in the context of food and food packaging and whether innovations in packaging can help to cut down on waste, particularly with the current focus on the need to reduce plastic packaging. There was also consideration of the most significant consumer trends in relation to food packaging, the role of packaging information in the move towards a circular economy, and the potential commercial issues involved in addressing food waste.
Among the challenges and issues identified, the panel agreed that the term ‘sustainable’ means different things, particularly in terms of consumers and businesses. Individuals have specific ideas of sustainability – for example being recyclable or made of paper - some of which are factual and some of which are notional; companies need to take into account the benefits of sustainability actions for their business as well as for the wider society and how these actions impact on their financial performance. It was recognised that many initiatives have cost implications throughout the supply chain and for the end-consumer.
While packaging’s role in helping to reduce food waste was crucial, the discussion also focused on the complexities involved, given the many different characteristics and protection requirements of different foods. As well as the design of the pack and appropriate choice of material for its manufacture, end of life considerations were equally critical, such as collection and sorting for recycling and cleaning for reuse. It was pointed out that the incorporation of recycled material into new packs could have performance issues that might impact on the speeds of filling lines.
A recurring theme throughout the debate was the need for collaboration in tackling the problems of food waste. The importance of businesses, governments, NGOs, industry associations and charitable organisations working together was seen as vital in best overcoming many of the challenges identified. Both regulation and voluntary measures were considered important. It was also acknowledged that competition among commercial organisations could help to drive change.
In addition, greater consumer engagement and education were necessary. Although in the UK great strides have already been made to reduce food waste in the home, many consumers are still unaware of the amount of food that they throw away. Panellists on the round table were Kate Cooper, Executive Director, Birmingham Food Council; Andy Griffiths, Head of Value Chain Sustainability at Nestlé; Nicola Hopley, Food Waste Prevention Team Leader at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA); Professor Martin Howarth, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) at Sheffield Hallam University; and Ed Roberts, Regional Sustainability Director EMEA, Sealed Air.
The debate was chaired by Dr Stella Despoudi, Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management at Aston Business School. Dr Despoudi will be collating the findings of the round table and the online poll into a White Paper.
- Nicole Tauster
- Company News
- Created 12 Mar 2020
- Modified 12 Mar 2020
- Hits 178