Throwing out food scraps and leftovers hardly seems controversial until you consider the stats: Some 870 million people, one-in-eight on Earth, go to bed hungry every night, notes the World Food Programme.
Shortly after taking his post, Pope Francis took this issue to heart and to the public to mark the U.N.'s 2013 World Environment Day, noting "throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and hungry." The Pope's remarks are made all the more poignant by a U.S. Department of Agriculture report estimating that 31 percent, or 133 billion pounds, of food available for consumption in 2010 at the retail and consumer levels in the U.S. was not eaten. In total, the U.S. throws out 40 percent of its food, estimates the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
From the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
Paradoxically, there's plenty of food to go around. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world's farmers grow enough food to feed everyone. Breakdowns occur in getting that food from farm to fork. Up to 50 percent of food never gets to the dinner table thanks to inefficient harvesting, storage and transportation practices, and market and consumer waste, notes a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
It Begins At Home
Consumers and retailers play a part as well. In first-world nations, food waste is partially a matter of consumer behavior and supply chain issues, according to The New York Times. For instance:
• Typically, shoppers buy more food than they need, and when it spoils, they toss it out.
• A huge number of people discard food prematurely because they're confused by "use by" labels.
• Aesthetics are a factor too. If fruit is discolored, or fails to look its best, consumers and retailers may toss it.
Fortunately, the food and beverage industry is in a position to help in a number of significant ways, and one of them is with packaging. For instance, groundbreaking research by the World Health Organization shows that 30 percent-50 percent of food in developing countries is unfit for consumption due to inadequate packaging and distribution, compared with 2 percent-3 percent in industrial countries. At the respected Save Food Congress, sustainability consultant Julian Carroll notably said, "Packaging is...the lowest-hanging fruit we have as we seek to provide for the world."
Packaging Prevents Waste
Research presented in the Harvard Business Review shows that proper packaging helps food last longer and lessens food waste. For example, meat wrapped in case-ready packaging can last up to 21 days as opposed to three days in butcher paper. And aseptic technology, which helps liquid foods stay shelf safe, can significantly reduce spoiled milk and other products on grocery shelves and in coolers.
There are a number of ways manufacturers can help combat food waste while limiting the environmental impact of packaging. Three of the most important are:
1. Picking right-sized packaging: When consumers buy just what they need, they won't have leftovers to throw away.
2. Using packaging, not preservatives: Advanced aseptic technology preserves food quality without resorting to preservatives. And new films absorb odors that may mislead consumers into discarding food long before it's spoiled. Recloseable packaging means less waste, too.
3. Choosing sustainable packages: Many options exist, and more are in development, with impressive environmental footprints. The goal food and beverage makers should keep in mind when selecting product packaging is to select options that maximize food protection and minimize environmental impact.
The positive social impact of reducing food waste is clear, but there are financial benefits to businesses as well--through production efficiencies and lower disposal costs.
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