How much of the food produced around the world is thrown out each year? And just how big is the global food loss and waste problem?
- 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year – 34 percent.
- One out of every four calories produced globally is lost or wasted.
- Water used to produce lost or wasted food equals 24 percent of all water used each year for agriculture and could fill 70 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Just imagine all the time, energy, and resources involved in growing, protecting, delivering, preparing, and serving that food, as well as the accompanying impact on the environment. And then imagine simply throwing it all away.
And here’s a scary look at the future: The world will need 60 percent more food calories in 2050 compared to 2006 if global demand continues on its present trajectory.
What is the solution?
Plastic packaging plays a significant and often major role in reducing food loss and waste in every stage of the food production process: farming, processing, distribution, storage, retail, and households.
Protection: To protect and deliver food to us safely, packaging needs to provide various barriers to oxygen, light, temperatures, moisture, microbes, critters and dirt.
- A new ultra-thin plastic film blocks transmission of oxygen, increasing shelf life of fresh meats to 21 days or more.
- Factory-sealed plastic containers and bags help preserve the flavor, texture and nutrients of food by locking out air, preventing absorption of nasty odors and flavors, and averting “freezer burn,” all of which lead to food waste.
- High-tech food pouches are made with super-thin layers of plastic (and other) films that work together to protect food and keep it fresher longer.
- And can you imagine life without airtight plastic zipper bags and containers that help protect our food?
Freshness: We need to ensure that the food we eat is fresh… and also looks and smells fresh.
- Some plastic films now can absorb odors that mistakenly cause consumers to think that food is spoiled.
- “Active” plastic packaging helps preserve food freshness by various means, such as capturing a reduced-oxygen air mixture in the package, controlling the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and incorporating anti-microbials.
- A new plastic vacuum package prevents discoloration of meats and extends shelf life ten times longer than store-wrapped meat, resulting in 75 percent less food waste.
- Why wrap a cucumber or an apple in plastic film? There’s a good reason – it greatly increases shelf life to reduce food waste.
- Prepared packaged meals can reduce the food waste associated with meal preparation. Food processors can reuse food scraps, whereas consumers generally don’t – up to 10 percent or more food can be wasted when creating home meals.
- Individual side and main dishes in lightweight plastic pouches designed for the microwave also mean no food prep waste – and the pouches now vary from single-serve to family size, so we can buy only the amount we need.
- Pre-portioned packaging allows us to open just the amount of food or snack we need, which can be particularly handy in single person households and those with kids.
- For the leftover averse, packaged meals and dishes are available in a variety of sizes, so we can heat only what we plan to eat.
- New plastic packaging for fresh and cooked meats divides contents into separate, sealed, portion-size compartments – in modified atmosphere packaging that also extends shelf life.
- When packing lunches or snacks, the wide variety of sizes of plastic zipper bags and containers allow us to control portion size, whether we’re trying to control weight, save money or waste less food.
But doesn’t all that packaging just create more waste? In fact, just the opposite is true. Studies find that increased use of packaging greatly offsets the impact of wasted food – up to ten times more resources (materials, energy, water) are used to make and distribute food than are used to make the packaging that protects it.
In other words, plastic (and other) packaging is an investment in protecting our food – and the resources we use to produce it.