What has packaging got to do with Food Waste?

Food waste is a major challenge involving the entire value chain. The main culprit is however and without doubt found at consumer level.
This is a complex problem but part of the solution lies in using better and more suitable packaging.

We simply can’t afford the current level of food wasted. Exactly how much is wasted is impossible to say, but a global estimate is more than 1 billion tons of food that is somehow lost or wasted on a yearly basis. That is about one staggering third of the global food production! Better adapted packaging is part of the solution.


The problem
This loss and wastage occur on all steps in the food supply chain but if we stay in the developed world a whole lot of food is wasted in the end of the road from the famous farm to the fork. The main culprit seems to be found at the final consumption stage, in our homes. But also, the other steps along the chain are involved in this.

A very recent report from Swedish Naturvårdsverket is mapping out the current Food Waste situation in the country. And it is not pretty. In 2018 about 1.3 million tons of food waste was generated in Sweden. This is an average of 133 kilos of food waste per person. As the graph clearly illustrates the main problem lies in the hands of the end-consumers in the households.

The problem isn’t easily pin pointed and solved as it involves all engaged in the consumption, production and distribution chain. But packaging is part of the problem and therefore also part of the solution.


The packaging link
This is a waste we can’t afford when we are going from 7 billion people to become 10 billion of us, not in Sweden but on the planet, in 2050. If we instead of increasing food production and cultivate vast new areas could save a third of what we today produce, we would in theory solve the problem to feed the growing world population.

The massive waste of food in the households has many reasons. Too little shopping planning and lack of pantry and fridge management to start with and perhaps food is too cheap and available. But as much as 20-25% of consumer food waste could be related to packaging.

The packaging is a part of the problem when ineffective packaging is used.

  • This could be about size, too big or a multi-pack, simply too much product and more than you can or want to consume.
  • It could be the lack of possibilities to re-seal the opened packaging and the content gets exposed and destroyed.
  • It could be packaging that can’t be shut tight enough and oxygen, light or something spoils the product.
  • Not clear enough instructions about storage, with the result that a product is kept too warm too cold, is part of the story.
  • Packaging that is hard to empty or confusion around the date labelling of a product.

Or it could be too ambitious light weighting that can lead to packaging that simply isn’t good enough to withstand a bumpy ride to the destination.
To mention a few. Much of the above comes to structural design of packaging but a lot of food is wasted because of the confusion about “best before” and” use by” date labels. One day we will have dynamic best before dates with built in sensors showing the actual best before date rather than a fixed one. But we are not quite there yet.


The solution
Apart from consumers improving their fridge management and doing more organized shopping the packaging industry can offer better packaging solutions. And food producers can use it…!

So, what is more effective packaging then? What I mean is packaging that is

  • Re-sealable. That is a screw cap, a zip-lock or something that enables the consumer to save product for later.
  • Easy emptying. Think of how to make it easier to empty the pack. It can be instructions on how to or a packaging feature like a collapsible container.
  • Modified or Controlled Atmosphere (MAP/CAP) these are technologies used to keep fresh food fresh for longer and adds real value by extending shelf-life.
  • Barrier materials. Use packaging with good enough barriers to oxygen, light or whatever is breaking down the content. The result is again extended shelf-life and less food waste.
  • Portion packages. This is a low hanging but effective fruit. By using smaller portion packs, the small household gets a better control of usage.
  • Smart packaging solutions of various kinds are helpful. Smart labels indicating time or temperature, ripeness for fruit, freshness for meat, fish, etc.

Technology is developing enabling new and better packaging solutions. Sensors are coming down in price and new creative concepts are brought forward by entrepreneurs.
But it hasn’t all have to be hi-tech, a cucumber has a “best before” life of 3 days and by wrapping it in plastic it increases by almost 5 times, to 14 days. Portion packs may require more packaging material but will probably save food from being wasted.

And the greenhouse gas emissions or GHGE related to food packaging is typically small, typically around 5%, relative to the emissions associated with producing and processing the food itself.

We want less plastic! And more of… what?


Yes, what do we want instead? We can’t always replace plastic with a renewable material. Then what about recycled plastic, more sustainable plastic that is efficiently recovered and that comes from an organised collection system? Does that sound a bit better?

Coca-Cola is in the news with their new line of bottles entirely made from recycled PET. Fantastic! Coca-Cola Sweden is during 2020 switching to only use PET bottles with 100% recycled material for their leading brands, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Bonaqua, 40 SKUs.

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This is not a small thing as using recycled material in food contact is a complex mission surrounded by of rules and regulations. The Swedish deposit system really helps here as it makes the recycling stream of PET bottles relatively pure.
Beverage bottles, and cans, are here collected and recycled separately and can in theory be turned back into new cans and bottles. Today around 85% of the distributed bottles are returned and recycled. Normally recycled PET tends to be cloudy due to unintended mixes and potentially tainted by other random plastic in the recycle process. This is avoided in a controlled stream like this.

In a recent report from McKinsey, “The drive toward sustainability in packaging—beyond the quick wins”, this is discussed, among other things. The report concludes that to successfully address the recyclability and waste challenges more collaboration is needed along the value chain. To manage increased recycling new infrastructure needs to be built and more closed system must be employed.

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A closed and dedicated deposit system clearly makes recycling more efficient as it is separate and, closed. The Swedish deposit system is managed by Returpack, an organisation owned jointly by retailers and fillers together. When the deposit system was created also packaging converters were involved which makes it a good example of an efficient recycling structure.

Another brand owner who is blazing new trails in this field is Nestlé. The company is seriously investing in the development of new packaging concepts in their effort to have 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. The newly inaugurated Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences is unique and aims to support the process. The Institute is going to do its bit of development of functional and environmentally friendly packaging solutions and to address plastic packaging waste.

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Nestlé is now investing a staggering €2 billion to explore the possibilities to widen the market for food-grade recycled plastics. The Institute will be involved but the main investment will be in driving the market for food-grade recycled plastics by boosting demand and by being ready to pay a premium.
They are now demanding 2 million tons over a period of time and are willing to pay for it, to create a market. Brilliant!

Plastic is at present needed, especially in the food industry to minimise food waste, and it is possible to create a circular economy also for plastics. To get there a system for collecting and recycling plastic must be in place. But there needs to be a corresponding demand as well. Today it is more expensive to use recycled materials than virgin. But with a higher demand and larger volumes the price should go down and thereby generate more demand.
Hopefully a process that creates a virtuous cycle spinning us towards a circular and healthy economy.

These are great examples of steps in the right direction to increase demand for recycled plastic materials. This will also drive the development of efficient systems for processing.
But, in the end, the consumers are going to do a big part of the job. We must not forget to inform and motivate to sort and return the empty packaging through this efficient system.

E-commerce and logistics – room for new concepts!

E-commerce will continue to grow, and that at the expense of traditional retailing. Online shopping will soon be the norm for shopping. The supply chain needs to adjust to this.

One man’s convenience is another man’s stress
One of the consequences of us shopping from home, or on-the-go using the phone, is a stressed logistics system. The result is visible, congested traffic and overloaded bottle necks.
The logistic system supporting online shopping can be divided in two steps. The first leg is from producer to a Customer Fulfillment Centre or CFC. The second is from the CFC to consumer. This is a very different supply chain from the traditional and we have all noticed the growing number of lorries on the roads. New innovative delivery methods are invented and tried out. Robots, drones and electrical vehicles of all kinds, self-driving and not. These solutions are mainly focused on the last mile delivery, that is from the customer fulfilment centre (CFC) to the consumer. This “last mile” transport can be organised in various ways, it can be home deliveries or to a pack-station at offices, supermarkets or in train stations.

Remarkable last mile solutions

Drones
Amazon introduced the concept of drone deliveries in 2016 and shared a few months ago a project update. They are still developing the concept and now showed us an increasingly sophisticated flying vehicle capable to deliver up to 90% of the packages they are delivering today. And safely too.
Wings has a similar solution but with a different spin.  They offer the same service, drone deliveries, but instead they link consumers to a range of local stores. An order is placed, and the drone picks up goods from the specified shop and delivers, all the way home. On trial in Australia, Finland and in the US.

Robots
Some drones are instead found moving around on the ground. In the UK, Tesco has started to deliver groceries using robots. A pilot test is located to Milton Keynes where Tesco is working with Estonian based robotics company Starship Technologies. A low 6-wheeled cart carries parcels, meals and groceries delivering to homes within a 3 km radius.
In the US Kiwibot is doing very much the same, home deliveries using robots, but in this case the 4-wheeled carts are bringing food from local restaurants. Also this is a concept in the building but it is inspiring to see all the creativity coming out to meet the demand for fast home deliveries.

The first leg of the supply chain
The above are solutions for shorter distances, the second leg of the supply chain. To get the goods from the producer to the CFCs lorries, train and boats are used, creating traffic overflow. That is until now. Until we heard of Magway.

British Magway has come up with the idea of building a network of pipes around the country. This planned grid of tubes, with a diameter of 90 cm, is supposed to carry goods, beneath and above ground. Instead of using trucks on the road, cargo will be sent around in pods in these tubes fitted with rails and powered by magnetism. An electric current will run through a track in the pipe, creating a magnetic wave that will drive the packed pods at speeds of 80 km/h.

Magway is an example of sustainable new thinking for a new era where consumers want their goods and that immediately. The normal distribution chain with goods-in-cases-and-on-pallets will with increasing online shopping soon not be the norm anymore.
Online shopping means that products are sent on their own or together with random other products. New methods are needed, and Magway has come up with a radical e-commerce delivery system that will reduce traffic on the roads and ease traffic congestion. The system promises reliable and predictable deliveries to CFCs and to a lower cost.

The first route planned is an 80 km route from northwest London to Milton Keynes, where large numbers of distribution centres are located. Already this year a 2 km test track will be built and tested.

This is an interesting period in time when online shopping is growing very fast and shoppers are expecting immediate deliveries. New solutions are really needed to gear up the supply chain for the new needs with lots of room for new thinking and developing of new concepts. All the above mentioned enterprises are going to be exciting to follow and I will absolutely keep an eye on all of them.

A cup is a cup is a cup… Not really!

It’s a bit more complicated. Last year we used 264 billion paper cups according to Imarc. This translates to a number of trees, an amount of water, a quantity of energy and a number for the miles transport needed. No doubt, it’s not for free from a climate point of view. This fact has gotten quite a lot of attention during the last few years, maybe with a peak two years ago, when consumers questioned the use of single-use cups.

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Another perspective on this comes from a recent, 2019, LCA study carried out by VTT or Technical Research Centre of Finland. The study shows that the paper-based coffee cup is performing quite well for carbon dioxide compared to the alternatives. The comparison was to reusable cups in different materials. But this footprint can be significantly improved by properly recycling the emptied latte cup.LINK TO MY WEBSITEAdd Button

The LCA consequences will of course depend on how the cup is made up, the amount and type of plastic used for lining and also what recycling facilities are available. We are using quite a few of these single use cups and recycling and reusing material is key to a circular economy. The average cup is not easily recycled, many plants have a challenge to separate the plastic from the paper.

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This recycling situation is improving. Last year Stora Enso announced that they could successfully recycle used paper cups at their plant in both Sweden and in Belgium. They declared that used paper cups could be used as valuable raw material and be recycled into white-lined chipboard (WLC).

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Recycling facilities can be expanded in many ways. This is proved by the London based charity organisation Hubbub. Together with Starbucks they launched ‘The Cup Fund’ to support paper cup recycling in the UK.  Enough money has been raised, by the voluntary 5p charge added to single use coffee cups, to build recycling facilities to handle 4 million cups yearly. Every little helps.

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There are other solutions available. Ball, the leading supplier of beverage cans, is testing aluminium cups as an infinitely recyclable alternative to the single use cup. They started last year and now they will be used for serving beverages at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami during Superbowl. A stiff drink, or at least a sturdy cup.

Finally, it is important to remember that of that cup of latte only 4% of the climate impact comes from the single use cup. 96% still comes from what’s in the cup, the coffee and the milk. So, enjoy the latte and don’t forget to recycle the cup. And do finish it to minimise food waste and the climate effect of your brew.

We’ll meet again – return to reusable packaging?

The mantra in the packaging industry has for some time been Recycle, Reduce, Reuse. Recycling material is great when there is a demand for the recovered material and reduced use of material is good for both the environment and the budget. Reusable packaging is more complicated in many ways, in particular for food products.

The reuse concept has developed since the olden days of refillable glass bottles and today has an appeal also as an alternative to Single Use Plastics items for the foodservice industry and has a potential to improve environmental footprints for the e-commerce industry. It can also be a great marketing tool for food and beverage brand owners and a way to reach specific consumer groups.
Below a few examples of reusable packaging spotted along the way.

Food service

Hot drink cups with a deposit are now available in several cafés and restaurant, although in a small scale, where you pay up an extra dollar, pound or euro for your coffee, which then is returned when the container is returned at the bar.

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Australian Returnr is taking the concept one step further when offering a series of foodservice containers. Not only cups but a whole range of reusable cups, bowls and lids that are designed for multiple use and also for takeaway. The aim is to support cafes and restaurants to eliminate single-use takeaway packaging. Returnr cups and bowls are, in Australia, free to borrow from cafes and restaurants with a $6 deposit. The deposit can then be claimed back from any restaurant who are working with Returnr. Something that attracts not only local cafés and restaurants but also Deliveroo who are offering Returnrs containers to their customers.

E-commerce

E-commerce as such is developing very fast but is from a packaging point of view there is plenty of room for new ideas.

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RePack is an example of this. RePack is a packaging solution made specifically for e-commerce. It is a resealable and durable plastic bag in varying sizes that close with a zipper. It is unique though as it is made for reuse and linked to a deposit system. The reusable packaging itself is made from recycled materials and is space efficient in that it is flexible and adjustable to minimise air, saving money and resources. When the consumer receives the delivery, they return the now empty bag that is designed to fold back into letter size which simply is dropped in the nearest mailbox. The consumer incentive lies in the refund that comes as a discount on the next purchase. Back at RePack’s logistics hub the bag is cleaned and sent out to be used again.

Food and bev brand owners

Online grocery shopping is also growing very fast albeit from a small base and has some catching up to do compared to other segments. One significant example of new thinking is from Loop who promote reusable packaging for grocery and personal care products.

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Loop is an interesting grocery e-commerce concept including a deposit-based refillable packaging scheme. It starts when a consumer order a home delivery where the Loop products arrive in a bespoke crate. With the following doorstep delivery of Loop products the empties are then picked up and returned for reuse. The packaging used is bespoke and made to be returned, cleaned and refilled. Materials used are metal, glass and plastic. Leading FMCG producers like Unilever, P&G and Nestlé have joint forces with TerraCycle an American recycling company to organise the Loop model. It’s in use in North America and in Europe the system is, at present, used by Tesco in the UK and by Carrefour in France.

Reusing containers is intuitively a good thing to do but the entire operation has to be considered, from start to landing. More transportation is usually needed, washing and rinsing using detergents and more material is normally used. When it comes to packaging it is never going to be simple but packaging reuse is definitely a path to explore. Looking forward to following the developments.

It’s the season for Packaging Trends!

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Towards the end of any year we have an avalanche of Packaging Trends and annual summaries coming in through the mailbox. Then at the end of a decade the number of summaries is doubled as we get both the Greatest Hits from 2019 and Top of the Pops from the last 10 years.

Please misunderstand me correctly, I like lists like everybody else, it’s just that the structure doesn’t necessary bring more clarity. The industry is wide and diverse and it’s hard to find the distinct trends, without obvious and significant contradictions.

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First of all it’s not easy to define trends that are so general that they cover the industry, but yet specific enough to be interesting. The packaging industry is a complex one with many examples of conflicting developments and where few lines point in one and the same direction. Some are for example moving from plastics for sustainability reasons, at the same time others are moving into plastics to minimise greenhouse gasses. All depending on perspective.

The below are examples of real trends that are happening right now and are both general and specific enough but even so containing contradictions.


Plastics We can conclude that the main trend is towards using less plastics. There is clearly an increased demand for no-plastic, less-plastic, some-plastic and bio-plastic solutions. The reasons vary and are unfortunately not always fact based. The trend has got quite some media coverage and the SUP directive was recently voted through in the European Parliament to be implemented already in 2021. This is leading to intense activity to find viable alternatives to single use plastic items.

At the same time Amazon makes a shift from fibre-based shippers to plastic bags. A decision that could inspire and set a trend for the rest of the industry. Amazon refers to environmental benefits to back the decision, reduced consumption of energy and natural resources during production, reduced CO2 emissions, and fewer vehicles required during transportation.


Less Packaging The general trend is in one way towards using thinner material and less material, to save both the environment and cost. Some consumers are loudly demanding less packaging, but consumers are also increasingly shopping online.

E-commerce is fast growing on a global scale and is bringing on change for all involved in FMCG trading. One of these changes is that products are often distributed as single units or in combination with random other products. As opposed to traditional retailing when products are safely sent around in a tray or case sitting on a pallet. The result is that products in general needs more and protective packaging to arrive safely to destination.


Recyclable Or reusable or refillable or returnable, or even compostable…? We are certain that we want more recyclable packaging to be used. But first of all, we need the infrastructure to collect, handle and recycle the used packaging. Then it is really up to the individual consumer to use the system.

An alternative to throw away packaging waste is to return and refill the emptied packaging. Just like in the old days and Loop is a new concept on this path. Here a few of the leading global food and beverage manufacturers are joining forces with global recycling organization TerraCycle to create a circular shopping platform. 

Consumers order products that get delivered in a shipping tote instead of a box. Goods arrive in durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials such as alloys, glass, and engineered plastics. Once the products are used, customers place empties back into the tote, schedule a free pick-up, and the system makes sure the products get automatically replenished. Brilliant.

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Packaging is a traditional industry, that needs fresh ideas. In contradicting times, in particular, you need a steady stream of fresh ideas. Standing still is probably the worst option.

So, I wish you all a very happy and fast moving 2020.