Food Packaging: Lesser of Two Evils

With food packaging, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Too much, and you’re using unnecessary materials. Too little and you’re risking damaged food in transit and elsewhere.

I suppose the ideal is going uber-local and bringing your own reusable containers like at Austin’s in.gredients (check out their incredible 6-month sustainability numbers). But until that sweeps the nation…we need to come to a compromise on food packaging.

Moving in that direction, there’s a new report from Britain’s WRAP mining consumer attitudes on food packaging. As you can see in the full report, the study found that few consumers (only 13%) realize that packaging can help reduce food waste at home through better storage (in addition to doing so in transit and in the store).

The study also found that most British consumers believe they are storing food items correctly, but many are not. And following storage guides on packaging labels would help. Also helpful: produce storage guides like this!

In addition, while British consumers feel that both packaging and food waste are problems, concern for food waste outpaced that for packaging after participants were shown more information. For anyone trying to change behavior on food waste, the three most effective statements were:

‘In the UK we throw away enough food, from our homes, to fill Wembley Stadium to the brim nine times over – every year;” “Wasting food costs the average family £480 a year. For families with children the cost can be up to £690 a year;” and “Food waste gives off harmful gases like methane when it rots in landfill. Methane is 20x worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.”

To conclude, nobody wants to see excessive packaging, and we should all strive to reduce our usage wherever possible. But, consistent with consumer attitudes after they heard more info, reducing food waste, with its associated environmental (embedded resources, landfill methane emissions) and social costs (not feeding people), should take priority over minimizing packaging. And in many cases, the latter may help with the former.



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  1. Posted March 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    So, do you know exactly how much food waste is prevented by things like produce packaging?

  2. Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    OOOh, as a zero-waste advocate, I find this so frustrating! But I am currently reading a book on carbon impact, and yes, the impact of a tomato traveling half way around the world is much more than the plastic wrap produced to make it last another week.

    Really, if people purchased less food a couple times a week rather than doing large shops, they would probably purchase less over all. And if grocery stores knew it was ok to run out of things, then they’d probably order less too, and maybe food wouldn’t have to sit around so long before being eaten. If we’re not going the local food, no packaging route, let us at least advocate for compostable or recyclable packaging – the landfill is not helping anyone.

  3. Posted June 4, 2013 at 2:36 am | Permalink


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