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STOP Waste – SAVE Food! What’s your situation?

For some time now, sustainability has also been “in” in the food sector. Consumers are paying more and more attention to the food they consume – especially to its packaging. While the world’s oceans are awash with microplastics, politicians and people are getting worried. One demand: the reduction of plastic waste. But does this really make sense in the food sector? This is the question that the study “STOP Waste – SAVE Food” has been addressing for the last 4 years. You can read about the most important results of the study here with us.

What is at issue?

The study focuses on food and its packaging. These have been frowned upon, especially since Fridays for Future, climate change and the like. But some foods need the plastic wrapper to “survive”, right?

In fact, the question of whether plastic packaging is justified cannot be answered with a blanket right or wrong. Instead, the study shows that a balance must be struck in each individual case. But let’s get to the facts first:

  • Around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions are related to food.
  • Packaging is responsible for up to 2% of the climate footprint.
  • Across the EU, there are approximately 88 million tonnes of wasted food per year.
  • Consumers prefer sustainable packaging.

From the facts, it is clear that plastic waste is not the only problem with our food industry – food waste also harms the climate. In order for consumers to look at packaging from a different perspective and not just see the negative aspects, the “STOP Waste – SAVE Food” study looks at the issue from all sides.

It’s all in the packaging – food waste

With the food itself, it is often the appearance that counts – but with the packaging, it is primarily the inner values that count. It has not only the task to pack the grill sausages handy. Their most important property is primarily to keep food fresh.

A small example of this: The packaging of beef

Beef is now often sold vacuum packed. Plastic wrapping. But it has a lot going for it as far as the shelf life of juicy steaks is concerned: in it, separate meat maturing is not necessary and instead of a 6-day shelf life, freshness is increased to up to 16. During the study, the waste rate of such a product in the trade was about 35% lower. Proper packaging prevents unnecessary food waste. Accordingly, the cost savings from reduced waste must also be taken into account. This is also important with regard to different portion sizes. Who eats 2 kilograms of potato pancakes at once? At least in a single household, some of this ends up in the household garbage. If the goods are packed in smaller portions “more” does not happen. In that case, the extra packaging would be kinder than creating food waste. So the question is: does the low volume of packaging outweigh the food waste?

Packaging and purchasing behaviour

The industry’s goal is to avoid food waste as well as plastic. Otherwise, the resources invested will be in vain. The job? The environmental benefits of the protective function of packaging must be weighed against the amount of food waste that would otherwise be generated. Because: If the protective function of a packaging delivers what it promises, then the plastic packaging also pays off in terms of environmental protection. So buyers need to see the benefit of each package – and understand its raison d’être.

What role does packaging play for the consumer?

First of all, however, it is necessary to understand what role the optimal packaging of foodstuffs plays in the purchase decision. Many customers now prefer packaging that makes as natural an impression as possible: Cardboard, glass or biodegradable materials are more appealing than plastic. It has acquired a negative image due to the transformation during the last years. Instead, it is deemed superfluous and the food is deemed “overpackaged.”

This buying behavior may be because consumers don’t see the problem of food waste as being as popular as plastic waste. Packaging waste is usually considered worse – food waste, on the other hand, is not such a big problem.

If you take a closer look at the packaging, however, it becomes clear that plastic also has its raison d’être as food packaging. Imagine a piece of fresh beef – stored in a cardboard box (without artificial coating, of course). It quickly becomes apparent that this is not how it works. Either good alternatives have to be found – or the need for plastic is recognised.

General statements are not possible – act individually

What does that tell us? Not having packaging is not necessarily better. Because this allows the highest shelf life of the food. Without proper packaging, more food waste is produced – resources are wasted unnecessarily. No blanket statement can be made about this issue. With the results of the study, the industry is faced with the task of developing optimized packaging. These should be both environmentally friendly and safe.

Pay attention to your customers and to your goods: Which packaging is preferred? In which containers do your delicacies last the longest? The fact is: Sustainability is also image work. Reaching for the typical plastic packaging is the easiest thing to do – but still, take a look at how you can optimize your packaging. Always in mind: quality and shelf life of the food.

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