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Future Packaging to Reduce Food Waste

Food packaging plays an important role in the food supply chain as thus in the generation of food waste.
Modern design concept of flat package elements.
© Storyblocks

Food packaging plays an important role in the food supply chain as thus in the generation of food waste.

At the first stages of the food chain, packaging is supposed to maintain the quality of foods, prolong their shelf life and protect the product from mechanical impacts during handling and transportation. At the retailer and consumer level, it is mainly the package design and functionality that determine consumer attraction and facilitate the consumption. Food packaging therefore affects the generation of food waste in households due to, e.g., package size, enhancement of shelf life and easiness to use. However, only little is known about the interrelations between package design and functionality and food waste generation. Therefore, the Packaging Saves Food Research Group has been established by global experts in this area to strengthen the research and society awareness on this issue.

The Packaging Saves Lives Food Research Group have identified five issues that need to be addressed in the next ten years to improve the contribution of packaging to food sustainability:

  • Identification of specific packaging functions that influence food waste for different products;
  • Understanding the total environmental burden of the products and the packaging;
  • Development of suitable tools to incorporate different packaging functions in life cycle assessments;
  • Improvement of packaging design processes with regard to food waste reduction;
  • Exploration of business models that make food waste reduction profitable

Which packaging features can contribute to the reduction of food waste?

Two prominent concepts that are continuously explored in research and development are active packaging and intelligent packaging.

  • Intelligent Packaging

Intelligent packaging refers to devices on the package that visually indicate the status of edibility of a product by a change of their appearance. These responses can be induced, e.g., by exceeding critical temperature thresholds during storage and transportation, or by the reaction with certain compounds that are released during the growth of spoiling microorganisms.

  • Active Packaging

Active packaging refers to devices inside the package that prolong the shelf life of the food, e.g., by releasing or absorbing certain compounds that are relevant for the quality of the product. Further packaging features are, e.g., components which facilitate opening and reclosing of the package, and packaging design mainly refers to smaller package sizes that prevent consumers from overconsumption and wastage of excess product.

An important aspect in the whole discussion about sustainability is the actual contribution of packaging to the environmental impact of the food production. Packaging is often perceived as something bad that has to be minimized, and improving packaging functionality by using novel technologies could further promote this perception. However, it was shown that an increase of the environmental impact of packaging would be easily compensated by a slight decrease of food waste, especially for resource-intense foods such as red meat and dairy products.

It is therefore necessary to transfer this knowledge to the consumers and to educate and involve them to change their behavior and attitudes. Furthermore, the reduction of food waste will inevitably decrease the sales values for the producers. Therefore, companies must find other value-adding features that allow for increases of prices and margins on their products, and the consumers must be encouraged to accept these changes by communication and training.

© University of Aarhus
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Introduction to Food Science

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