INNOVATIVE PACKAGING TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE AND FOOD LOSS24/03/2022
When it comes to food, packaging plays a fundamental role in keeping it fresh, preserving its quality to reduce food-borne diseases as well as extending its shelf-life to minimize loss and waste. Although a plastic-free attitude is a linear approach to the green question, a circular one may be more efficient. If we take into consideration the negative impact that producing food which remains uneaten or distributing inedible food has on our environment and economy, food loss and food waste call for new packaging solutions. One of the latest trends entails converting agri-food residues into innovative bio-packaging. In this perspective, microbial (bio-polyesters) engineered polymers enable a true environmental, economic and industrial added value by adopting regenerative process-oriented systems adapted to conventional and local industries.
The production of microbial biodegradable polymers from agri-food waste residues seems a promising way to create an innovative and productive waste-based food packaging economy by separating the food packaging industry from fossil feed stocks and allowing nutrients to return to the soil. Another option is to implement packaging technologies that reduce food waste and food loss by improving food quality, safety and preservation, such as MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging). MAP, commonly used in coffee packaging, maintains a low level of oxygen in packaged foods thus ensuring a longer shelf life. What is really interesting about MAP is its ability to control mass transfer between the food, the packaging and the atmosphere; yet this solution – together with the so-called active MAP – remains difficult to adapt and upgrade because it needs to be fitted to the specific needs of the food. Refillable packaging – such as cleanable glass or stainless-steel containers – offers consumers the opportunity to buy food in loose or bulk formats in retail outlets.
Because of the large size of retail packaging, consumers often purchase more food than needed and often throw away what they cannot use. In this perspective, refillable packaging could be an easy-to-implement option although innovative designs of containers that preclude human contact with the product during filling – which are so important in order to avoid cross-contamination and food safety risks – are still to be implemented on a large scale. Packaging is becoming a key element of sustainable food consumption because – if properly designed and developed – it could simultaneously decrease food waste and losses, beside diminishing the burden on resources and packaging waste management.
So far, despite the huge investments in research, the efficiency of new packaging solutions to reduce the overall environmental impact of the food/packaging system has not been assessed on large-scale market nor communicated in easy-to-understand format to consumers. We can only hope that the next generation of food packaging will significantly contribute to reduce waste in both food and packaging materials and its negative impacts on the environment by 2050.