With Australia producing 7.3 million tonnes of food waste across the supply and consumption chain, and a Federal Government National Food Waste Strategy to halve food waste that goes to landfill by 2030, now is the time for packaging technologists to review pack designs that could minimise food waste and losses.
According to the National Food Waste Baseline, which was launched earlier this year, in 2016-17 (the base year) 2.5 million tonnes of food waste (34 per cent) was created in our homes, 2.3 million tonnes (31 per cent) in primary production and 1.8 million tonnes (25 per cent) in the manufacturing sector. Australians recycled 1.2 million tonnes of food waste, recovered 2.9 million tonnes through alternative uses for food waste and disposed of 3.2 million tonnes.
So what role does packaging play in preventing and or minimising food waste? The primary purpose of packaging is to contain, protect, preserve, promote and communicate, handle and transport and provide convenience for a product – all the while ensuring the safe delivery of food to the consumer. Without adequate packaging design features, and fit-for-purpose packaging, food can be wasted all the way through the supply chain to the consumer. By modifying packaging designs and ensuring that Save Food Packaging guidelines are followed, food waste and loss can be minimised.
As a core participant of the newly-established Fight Food Waste CRC, the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) has been working on producing Save Food Packaging design criteria and communication material for the implementation into food packaging that will lead to better packaging design, material and format selection to assist retail, food service and consumers to minimise and prevent food waste.
Resealable packaging to minimise food waste
An important Save Food Packaging criteria is resealable packaging. Under the umbrella of resealable packaging there are many intuitive technologies including resealable zippers, resealable lidding films, extrudable reseal adhesives, resealable packaging, sliders, resealable zipper tapes and labels, valves and more.
Resealable packaging provides a myriad of benefits including extension of shelf life, reduction in spillages, retention of nutritional value and freshness of product, ingress of flavours, prevention of further product contamination, consumer convenience, controlled dispensing and pouring, allowance for multiple uses of the same pack and easy storage.
Through this packaging design consumers have the ability to retain the product in the original pack and not add additional plastic film, foil, bags or containers to maintain freshness and quality of the product. All of these benefits in turn ensure the prevention of unnecessary food waste and loss.
Reseal versus reclose
When selecting the best resealable technologies, it is important to ensure that the pack can in fact reseal and not simply reclose. There is a difference between intuitive resealable designs that guarantee seal integrity and a closure that could compromise the quality of the product. Choosing the wrong solution can potentially stand in the way of preventing food waste in the household and also damage consumer perceptions of your product.
Just like for any other style of packaging, trials need to be undertaken before the resealable packs are commercialised. This is to ensure that the design provides the required freshness, nutritional and food waste objectives for the product. Integrity of seals, freshness, shelf life and barrier, oxygen, contamination, leakage etc can be assessed during trials.
Developers of the packaging should consider incorporating on-pack communication that explains the key benefits of the resealable option to the consumer. Extension of shelf life, freshness, quality and the ability to minimise food waste in the home are important for consumers. Food manufacturers need to actively engage the consumers in the journey and to explain the important role that packaging plays in minimising food waste,
Balancing 2025 and 2030 targets
Packaging technologists and designers also need to balance the 2025 National Packaging Targets against the 2030 National Food Waste targets when designing resealable packaging. The decision to move to resealable design must also include discussions about the recyclability of the packaging in the country in which the product is sold. Making the decision to move to packaging that minimises food waste, all the while meeting the 2025 National Packaging Targets, is the optimum solution and may require undertaking a Lifecycle Assessment to find the sweet spot.
If every food manufacturer made a commitment to incorporate Save Food Packaging guidelines into their packaging development process, then this would be a considerable step in the right direction to minimise and/or prevent food waste in Australia.