The packaging industry and aid agencies should form a new public – private partnership to develop innovative packaging solutions to reduce the waste of food in developing countries, according to Julian Carroll, Managing Director of EUROPEN, the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment.
Speaking at the Save Food Congress, part of the packaging industry’s biggest trade fair Interpack, Mr Carroll highlighted the misconceptions about packaging and the lack of understanding by many policymakers of the valuable role packaging can play in reducing waste, and therefore promoting food availability. Referring to packaging as “the Cinderella of the Food World,” Mr Carroll instead painted a picture of packaging playing a central role in answering the question ‘how do we feed the nine billion?”.
Sprawling food waste
Carroll directly confronted critiques of the industry by making the case for packaging’s role in reducing food waste and food loss, which according to the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology amounts to 2.3 billion tonnes of food a year. In India, for example, post-harvest food loss of fruits and vegetables can be as high as 50%, or 80 million tonnes, which is almost as high as the total production of fruit and vegetables in the European Union. The discarding of edible food throughout the EU amounts to 11% of total food production in Europe, or 89 million tonnes.
Carroll explained: “Let me put these numbers into perspective. In 2008, the total amount of food the world gave as food aid to poor countries amounted to 6.3 million tonnes. This is less than a tenth of the amount of food UK consumers alone threw away each year.”
Packaging as development assistance
With the global population expected to rise to over nine billion people by 2050 and agricultural experts predicting a need to increase agricultural production by as much as 70% to feed the world, Carroll lamented the fact that packaging has never been considered by policymakers as part of the equation to address food security issues.
Therefore Carroll called on the packaging industry to join forces with aid agencies, policymakers, farmers and food processors to create a public private partnership that aims to further build packaging infrastructure in developing countries to reduce the amount of food wasted post-harvest, at market and among consumers. This will enable farmers to profit more from their harvest and increase the overall food basket of food in secure regions around the world.
“Let’s go on and work together to explore the formation of a public private partnership between aid agencies and the packaging industry aimed at delivering that help to build packaging infrastructure. It would be a win-win situation for both parties,” said Carroll in the conclusion of his speech.
The rationale behind this approach is clear. Firstly, there are a range of very inexpensive packaging options that can help protect produce and dramatically reduce food loss, such as crates that protect fragile fruits and vegetables that can be used over and over again. Secondly, in the long-term, as consumers in developing and emerging economies become wealthier, they will be able to afford more packaged foods, which will help reduce food waste even more.
In his speech, Carroll likened the role packaging can play in addressing food security to the ability of sewage systems to improve overall health. Proper sewage has done more to extend life expectancy than all the miracles of modern medicine. Likewise, decent packaging is likely to make more food available to more people than expensive biotechnology.
Savings in the North to help the South
“What is the point in devoting so much effort to produce more food, if that food rots or is thrown away? Why put millions of acres under the plough just to waste the resulting crop?” Carroll asked the audience.
Carroll also explained that by bringing to market new packaging innovations to reduce food waste in rich countries, these countries will need to import less food and could free up additional food to provide as food aid.
EUROPEN--The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment--is an industry and trade organization open to any company with an economic interest in packaging and packaged products. Members of EUROPEN are identified as companies which support a united trade and industry organization, dedicated to satisfactorily resolving the environmental challenges facing the packaging chain in an active and co-operative manner without favouring any specific packaging material or system.