Reducing Food Waste with Better Packaging and Labelling
An important concern in modern society is the issue of food waste. Approximately one-third of the food produced in the entire world (around 1.3 billion tonnes) ends up in landfill. In the UK, 18 million tonnes of food goes to waste annually; one-third of this is from producers, one-third from retail and another third from households.
Figures from the Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP) show how household food waste in the UK has increased 4.4% in only three years (from 2012 to 2015), reaching an astonishing figure of 7.3 million tonnes of waste.
WRAP also estimates that £1 billion of household food waste, the equivalent of 350,000 tonnes, could be avoided with improved packaging and labelling. Food manufacturers have already taken steps to reducing food waste by reviewing their labelling. Since 2011, products that had more than one date label decreased to fewer than 3%.
Some products, like hard cheese, changed their labels from ‘use by’ to ‘best before’, which allows customers more time to consume them. Even though more changes need to occur, such as making more use of the snowflake logo to indicate that the food can be frozen, the UK food and drink industry is already making significant improvements.
According to the Food and Drink Federation, 2016 has seen a decrease of 46% in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to the 1990 data. In addition, food manufacturers sent zero food and packing waste to landfills in 2015, which contributed to a 7% reduction in the carbon footprint of packaging.
What Still Needs to be Done?
The UK could also save £3.7 billion by using food waste as renewable fertiliser; recycling food waste could even generate 1.1 terawatts of energy by 2020, which has further benefits for the environment – and for the industry.
Manufacturers can help consumers reduce the amount of food waste by extending the shelf life of products through processing and packaging – by investing in innovative techniques and technologies, manufacturers could reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions and food waste.
Clear date labels are equally important, as they can provide easy-to-read and succinct information. The same is true of storage, freezing and defrosting instructions on packaging, which can even help consumers to improve how they use their fridges. A third of household refrigeration units tend to be set below 5oC, which is within the recommended range, while another third is set above 9oC. Setting fridges at the correct temperature (which should be clear on food labels) can help prevent spoilt food.
Reducing food waste is an important concern that can be achieved with better packaging and labelling. Not only can it help the economy save significant monies, but it can also contribute to a healthier environment and a more productive industry.