The World Against Plastic Pollution
In the last decade, there has been an increased backlash against plastic pollution. Many governments across different levels have banned single-use plastic bags in their jurisdiction. For years, it was thought that plastic packaging was a necessary evil. However, this idea has been changing lately as innovation emerges into the market.
The Problem with Food Plastic Packaging
Plastic has been ingrained across all industries for decades. The food industry has been one of the most intense one. Food plastic packaging plays a key role in delivering a safe food supply from farm to table. It is also the material of choice for freezing foods for long term storage. In other words, plastic packaging is a cost-effective solution to protect food from contaminants and extend shelf life. Nonetheless, food waste and poorly implemented environmental policies lead to a massive increase of plastic pollution in the environment, especially our oceans. According to the documentary A Plastic Ocean, around 350 million tons of plastic are produced each year, 2.2% of which end up in the bottom of oceans. At this rate, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
The Problem with Food Waste
Although plastic packaging negatively impacts the environment, food waste has a larger environmental impact, specifically in terms of carbon footprint. It is estimated that 30% of the food produced today is wasted. At the same time, 800 million people are famished. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that food waste represents an economic loss of $700 billion worldwide annually.
According to Tony Kingsbury, Sustainability Director for EMEA at packaging company DOW, the real key sustainability drivers are carbon and circularity. While plastic packaging is part of the issue, the big problem is the food waste we generate. If we only produce the food we really need and avoid overproduction, the overall carbon footprint could be reduced up to 8%. In fact, Project Drawdown, an environmental NGO, suggests that reducing food waste is 15.7 times more important to cutting our carbon footprint than recycling.
Innovation is Key
The European Union has adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan that supports recycling and includes mandatory requirements in what is allowed in the EU. This includes over packaging.
Some companies, knowing that they play a key role in the plastic pollution, have been working to create more climate-friendly products, and trying to reduce their carbon footprint from production to consumers. For instance, Dow partnered with Kellogg’s to produce recyclable pouches for its Bear Naked Granola. Evian water has developed a 100% recycled plastic bottle and so on.
Each day, many innovators are pushing their boundaries and working to deliver eco-friendly packaging and products. However, the big takeaway here is that we need to waste less food and create and follow well-founded environmental policies so the impact of plastic is limited.