By Debby Cheng – Campaigns Officer
For years, I’ve started my day the same way: with a bowl of cereal. But last week, I noticed something that I had not before: my cereal’s packaging.
Usually, cereal goes soggy fast because you can’t close the bag that it comes in. Some people might throw out the cereal because it no longer tastes good. What’s more, often the packaging – a foil bag plus a box – goes straight into the garbage bin after just one use. That’s a lot of waste.
This packaging is different. First, it’s resealable, so my cereal stays crunchy longer.
Secondly, though it’s only a bag, it’s made of a sturdy plastic, so the cereal doesn’t get crushed on its way to my supermarket from the UK. Because the packaging is so durable, I can use it again and again. In fact, without thinking, I’ve collected a bunch.
Leftover food is one of the hot topics today. The State Grain Administration says Mainland China wastes about 200 billion yuan worth of food, equal to 80 billion kilograms of grain – that could feed 250 million people for an entire year. Hong Kong, meanwhile, wastes 3,584 tonnes of food every day, and in Macau, food waste accounts for 20 to 40 per cent of domestic waste (link only available in Chinese).
Many governments and the food industry are making an effort to study how to minimise food waste. In Australia, even the packaging industry is talking about how to reduce it in different parts of the production chain.
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology released a fascinating study, “The role of packaging in minimising food waste in the supply chain of the future”. It looks at how to prevent food from becoming damaged and as a consequence unmarketable and condemned to garbage heap.
Waste increases costs for the food industry. Food packaging can prevent a lot of food waste. Take one example: modified atmosphere packaging. By injecting carbon dioxide, nitrogen or oxygen into the container, ethylene can be absorbed. Lowering the concentration of this hormone, which causes produce to ripen, can increase the food’s shelf life. These and other new packaging technologies might require investment, but the food industry should definitely consider them.
Of course, there are also easy ways to package food to prevent it from becoming waste. Australian banana farmers often discuss the reasons for damage in the course of delivery with packaging companies, the government department responsible for the primary industry, and retailers, in order to come up with solutions. In the past, the farmers used cardboard boxes. Four years ago, they started putting the bananas into cloth bags and transporting them in plastic crates instead of cardboard boxes. This prevented the fruit from bruising, increased air circulation and regulated the temperature, effectively increasing shelf life.
After reading this article, I started noticing the packaging for the other food in my kitchen and thinking: Are these examples of good ways to package food?
The world wastes 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year. When more than 800 million people remain hungry in the world, this is just wrong. The global population is expected to rise by 2 billion and the demand for food by over 70 per cent. Something needs to be done to fix the broken food system.
Working on the GROW campaign has been tremendously rewarding. We’ve engaged with food banks that redistribute excess food, exposed the problem of land grabs in the sugarcane supply chain, challenged university students to devise innovative recipes to re-use surplus food, and more. (Check out what we’re up to here!) I hope this will bring us one step closer to a food system where everyone always has enough to eat.
But we can’t do it alone. We need everyone to make an effort, and food packaging designers, the food producers and companies that use their innovations, and the supermarkets that carry their items, can all play a part.