2.7x as many cucumbers spoil without packaging: We need system answers
A new study from Austria has examined the effects of dispensing with packaging for food. In the case of the cucumber, the amount of food waste increases by a factor of 2.7 on the retail side alone, and the climate footprint increases fourfold due to the additional amount of waste. The study shows that with all the focus on circular economy and reduced material consumption, the basic performance of the packaging is still the most important – also ecologically. Without hygiene and product protection it is not possible. And the question of sustainability is not decided with the plastic film alone.
Study “Stop Waste – Save Food”
The current study “Stop Waste – Save Food” was carried out by a network of scientists, the packaging industry and the food industry in Austria. The aim of the study was to clarify the role of packaging in the prevention of food waste.
The core message of the results report: Packaging can make a significant contribution to preventing food waste. Concretely examined examples showed in detail:
- A doubling of the minimum shelf life reduces the waste rate in the retail sector by about 40 percent on average.
- By dispensing with shrink film for salad cucumbers, an Austrian retail chain increased its food waste for salad cucumbers by a factor of 2.7. The climate footprint of the additional waste volume is four times higher than the climate benefit of the saved packaging.
- About 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to food. One third of all food produced is lost. Avoiding food waste can reduce our overall climate footprint by up to 8 percent.
- With its protective function, packaging often helps to reduce food waste. If this is the case, then the environmental benefit from avoided waste is usually 5-10 times greater than the environmental cost of packaging. Product protection pays off particularly well in the case of foodstuffs with a high production input (e.g. meat, cheese).
Back to the basics
The study is a valuable reminder of what packaging fundamentally achieves, as a product protector, as a guardian of hygiene and as a preserver of values and resources. We must not forget this, especially when it comes to sustainability and the circular economy.
In principle, it is quite conceivable that the cucumber could be deprived of its protective packaging without ecological disadvantages. However, it is then important that processes and accelerated logistics can compensate for the loss of shelf life by reducing the time required between harvesting and sale.
As long as we do not have these system answers, it is negligent to dispense with the protection of the packaging.