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The role of packaging in minimising food waste in the supply chain of the future: Prepared for: CHEP Australia
Centre for Design and Society, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University, Australia.
Centre for Design and Society, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University, Australia.
Karlstad University, Faculty of Technology and Science. (Miljö- och energisystem)
2013 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Food security is an emerging challenge for policy makers and companies in the food supply chain. The global population is expected to grow to 9 billion and demand for food by 77% by 2050. Over the same period food production will be under threat from climate change, competing land uses, erosion and diminishing supplies of clean water. One of the solutions to this dilemma is increased efficiency and waste reduction in the food supply chain.

This report focuses on packaging opportunities that may help to reduce or recover food waste. Packaging has a vital role to play in containing and protecting food as it moves through the supply chain to the consumer. It already reduces food waste in transport and storage, and innovations in packaging materials, design and labelling provide new opportunities to improve efficiencies. Product protection needs to be the primary goal for packaging sustainability, and sometimes this requires trade-offs between packaging and food waste.

The report draws on an international literature review and interviews with representatives from 15 organisations in the Australian food and packaging supply chain. It considers food waste along the entire food supply chain, but with a particular emphasis on food waste that occurs prior to consumption, i.e. during agriculture production, post-harvest handling and storage of raw materials, and in the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector consisting of food manufacturing, wholesale trade, food retail and distribution and food services. Food rescue through charities is also a focus of the report.

Over 4.2 million tonnes of food waste is disposed to landfill in Australia each year. Around 1.5 million tonnes of this is from the commercial and industrial sector (the focus of this report), costing around $10.5 billion in waste disposal charges and lost product. The largest single contributor in the commercial and industrial sector is food service activities (e.g., cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets), which generate 661,000 tonnes of food waste per year, followed by food manufacturing (312,000 tonnes) and food retail (179,000 tonnes). Most waste in food manufacturing is unavoidable, and almost 90% is already recovered as animal feed, compost or energy.

The reasons for food loss and waste at each stage of the supply chain include:

  • Agricultural production: damage from pests and disease; unpredictable weather conditions; not meeting quality specifications

  • Post-harvest handling and storage: not meeting specifications for quality and/or appearance; pest damage; spillage and degradation

  • Processing and packaging: trimmings and other food preparation waste; production line start up; batch mistakes; inadequate remaining shelf life

  • Distribution (wholesale and retail): damage in transit/storage due to packaging failures; product spoilage; fresh produce not meeting specifications or damaged during handling; inadequate remaining shelf life due to poor stock rotation or low sales

  • Food service: trimmings and other food preparation waste; poor inventory management (e.g. over-ordering); improper food handling; confusion over use-by and best-before dates; plate leftovers

  • At home: trimmings and other food preparation waste; food spoilage; preparing too much food; past use-by or best-before dates; plate leftovers.

    A number of opportunities to reduce food waste through packaging improvements were identified, including:

    1)  Distribution packaging that provides better protection and shelf life for fresh produce as it moves from the farm to the processor, wholesaler or retailer. This may require the development of tailored solutions for individual products.

    2)  Distribution packaging that supports recovery of surplus and unsaleable fresh produce from farms and redirects it to food rescue organisations.

    3)  Improved design of secondary packaging to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose, i.e. that it adequately protects food products as they move through the supply chain. Packaging developers need to understand the distribution process and where and why waste occurs.

    4)  A continuing shift to pre-packed and processed foods to extend the shelf life of food products and reduce waste in distribution and at the point of consumption (the home or food services provider). The packaging itself also needs to be recoverable to minimise overall environmental impacts.

    5)  Adoption of new packaging materials and technologies, such as modified atmosphere packaging and oxygen scavengers, to extend the shelf life of food

    6)  Education of manufacturers, retailers and consumers about the meaning of use-by and best- before date marks on primary packaging to ensure that these are used appropriately. Confusion about date marking results in food being thrown away when it is still safe to eat

    7)  Product and packaging development to cater for changing consumption patterns and smaller households. Single and smaller serve products will reduce waste by meeting the needs of single and two person households.

    8)  Collaboration between manufacturers and retailers to improve the industry’s understanding of food waste in the supply chain. Greater attention to be given to where and why this occurs, tracking over time, will reduce the costs and environmental impacts of waste.

    9)  More synchronised supply chains that use intelligent packaging and data sharing to reduce excess or out-of-date stock.

    10)  Increased use of retail ready packaging to reduce double handling and damage and improve stock turnover, while ensuring that it is designed for effective product protection and recoverability (reuse or recycling) at end of life.

The implementation of these initiatives could be supported by further research and communication activities to highlight the critical links and trade-offs between packaging, product protection and food waste. Study recommendations include:

  • Detailed analysis of food waste using direct observations and sampling at key aggregation points, such as post-harvest grading, sorting and packing. The reasons for waste would be documented and analysed to identify opportunities for improvement.

  • Collaborative research into the potential for packaging systems to be improved to reduce food waste in specific food supply chains. Agricultural products and processed food items could be selected based on their contribution to the economy, unit sales value, environmental impact, or waste volumes in the supply chain.

  • Analysis of food waste in different food service premises (e.g., hotel, café, restaurant, take away) to identify opportunities for packaging innovation and increased food recovery.

  • Life cycle assessment of primary packaging formats (e.g., modified atmosphere packaging) that extend shelf life to better understand the trade-offs between packaging use and food waste generation.

  • Life cycle assessment of packaging formats (e.g., single serves, bulk packaging) to understand their impact on product protection and food waste.

  • Education and communication to raise awareness and educate stakeholders in the food and packaging supply chain on opportunities to further reduce food waste through packaging innovation.

  • Education and communication to improve consumer understanding of the role that packaging can play in keeping a product safe and fresh. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Melbourne: RMIT University Report , 2013. , 1-49 p.
National Category
Engineering and Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-33989OAI: diva2:752398
Available from: 2014-10-03 Created: 2014-10-03 Last updated: 2015-12-28

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