Food Packaging in the Limelight

Most of us hold a vague (or fervent) view that the less packaging the better. When it comes to food, though, it’s not as simple as that.

On the one hand, packaged food prevents choice in the amount we buy, which can prompt overbuying (and waste). Then again, packaging can keep food fresher longer and protect it from damaging. And the UK packaging group INCPEN stresses the latter argument with a neat campaign: The Good, the Bad and the Spudly.

The campaign comes in conjunction with INCPEN’s study Checking Out Food Waste, which examines in transit food waste. There are findings by financial value and weight, with chicken, bananas and bread leading the way for the latter. Depending on your view, the study could provide support for the theory that more packaging means less waste. 

More certain, though, is the energy embedded in packaging vs. food. According to the study (page 5), the primary and transport packaging represent 10% of the energy for one person’s weekly food consumption. That’s less than the 14% of energy used in cooking and 17% in refrigeration. And it’s far below the 51% for producing our food. 

It’s unclear whether or not that figure includes the energy used to grow wasted food. Yet, even using the most conservative estimate–accounting for our home wastage of 25%–food’s energy usage exceeds that of packaging. And that’s one of INCPEN’s major points.

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