Combating food waste and the single-use mentality – is the New Utopia now within reach?

Impact of food waste goes way beyond overstuffed landfill.
Food & Pharma
3 June 2019

Almost 1.2 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, costing almost a trillion dollars around the world, two thirds of which is down to industrialized countries, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. That’s almost 30% of food being discarded annually, in the UK £20bn worth of food is wasted annually and the average family throws away food worth £810 ever year.

But the impact of food waste goes way beyond overstuffed landfill, it has humanitarian, moral, environmental and economic implications. There is an increasing awareness across all sections of society that food waste has a considerable environmental impact. In a recent article on the Packaging News website, Jorge Izquierdo, a Vice at The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) reminds us that “when food goes to waste, so do the resources that it took to produce, process and transport these products.”
“Massive amounts of chemicals, fertilizer and fuel, acres of land and, in the U.S. alone, 25 percent of all freshwater is used to produce food that is discarded,” he continues.

The Pacific trash vortex

Alongside this, we’re all by now familiar with the shocking images of the Great Pacific garbage patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, a ragbag collection of floating plastic rubbish, mainly originating from Asian countries, floating halfway between California and Hawaii and extending over an area of 1.6 million square kilometres according to some estimates. It’s also often said that by the middle of the 21st century there could be more plastic than fish in the seas and oceans.
Eliminating single-use plastic is therefore quite rightly now an important environmental goal, and pressure on the issue is being driven by a broad but loose coalition of forces, involving consumers, government and food distributors. Images of mile after mile of plastic bottles and stricken wildlife have resonated with the UK public and have stirred industry, government and consumers to take tangible action to address the issue.

While food waste has not had the same degree of coverage in the mainstream media, it is an emotive and increasingly reported issue that is also inescapably bound up with the drive to reduce single use plastic.

Holistic sustainability

“A holistic approach is required to address the complex issue of food waste and reduction of plastic in packaging. The two issues should not be viewed in isolation. To put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and address the issue comprehensively, collaboration is vital.”  Iain Shipley, Air Liquide’s UK Food & Pharma Offer Deployment Manager.

One of the leading examples of collaboration in action is The New Plastics Economy, an exciting initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched, in 2018, a Global Commitment to address plastic waste and pollution at source.

“For some of us it’s beginning to feel like a special moment when the consumer consciousness is reaching a tipping-point. It’s not just single-use plastic we’re thinking about, it’s the whole single-use mentality, and we’re starting to join the dots and link it with food waste, “ he continues.
“ The issue is increasingly part of a wider discussion around the circular economy”

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