Bag it, pack it, wrap it: does packaging reduce food waste?

Tuesday, 27 August, 2019

Bag it, pack it, wrap it: does packaging reduce food waste?

Independent research released by the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) has highlighted the importance of packaging fresh produce in reducing food waste.

Carried out by RMIT and Empauer, the research indicates that fresh produce packaging can mitigate the $20 billion of food wasted in Australia every year. The research tracked the life cycle of 10 fresh produce items with and without packaging, with results indicating that packaging provided considerable benefits for fresh produce, including product protection, extension of shelf life and the ability to communicate product information to consumers.

Consumer concerns about packaging relate to the environmental impacts of production and the end-of-life treatment options available for packaging. As the impact of packaging cannot be separated from those of the product, the product-packaging system must be considered as a whole to minimise its overall environmental impact.

“AFPA recognises that consumers are concerned about the level and type of packaging that is used for fresh produce. What this research demonstrates is there are real practical reasons for using packaging for certain types of fresh produce,” said Michael Rogers, AFPA CEO.

“It is important that consumers better understand why producers utilise particular packaging formats, whether it be to ensure product integrity in the supply chain, extend shelf life and/or reduce food waste,” Rogers said.

The research analysed the effects of packaging on various fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, cucumbers, lettuce and snacking tomatoes. When stored in perforated low-density polyethylene packaging (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene packaging (HDPE), bananas had an extended shelf life of 36 days, with unpackaged bananas lasting 15 days. Cucumbers that were shrink wrapped and stored at 12°C had a shelf life of nine days, whereas unwrapped cucumbers had a shelf life of two days. Whole heads of lettuce that were sealed in polyethylene plastic bags and refrigerated had a shelf life of 28 days — a 4.5 shelf life difference from loose storage.

Small snack packs of tomatoes in plastic clamshell punnets provided a 28-day shelf life for the tomatoes, providing a marked improvement from earlier cardboard packaging, which absorbed moisture from the tomatoes, dehydrating them and resulting in lower-quality tomatoes.

“The environmental impact of the waste generated from damaged, unsellable fruit actually outweighs the impact of utilising the punnet,” Rogers said.

While emphasising the importance of packaging for fresh produce, the report also highlights the importance of reducing environmentally harmful packaging where possible and implementing packaging solutions that can be recycled.

“AFPA members are focused on ensuring all Australians have access to fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet and are conscious of meeting this goal in the most sustainable way possible,” Rogers said.

The role of packaging for Australian fresh produce’ report and industry summary can be downloaded from the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance website.

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