By Michael Grosse—Each year an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted globally. This mountain of food would be over eight Eiffel Towers tall and includes about 45% of fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat (1). Accounting for 8% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, food waste makes nearly as big a contribution to global warming as road transport.
While there is no one solution that can create a sustainable food future, cutting food waste would make an important contribution to helping improve food security. If global food waste was reduced by just 25% there would be enough to feed the 800 million people who remain malnourished (2). Cutting food waste is also a vital step in meeting the demands of the world’s growing population at a lower environmental cost. The food waste footprint is bigger than the physical food lost, representing a wider waste of natural resources needed to produce, process and distribute food such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing greenhouse gas emissions unnecessarily.
Reducing food waste requires a holistic value chain approach as it occurs throughout the supply chain, starting with initial agricultural production and ending with the consumer.
During production, edible crops may be left in the field, or harvested at the wrong time, reducing yields. Food can be contaminated during processing, or incorrectly discarded during quality control. Inappropriate packaging can also cause loss or spoiling. Food may be lost or damaged during distribution, or due to lack of a suitable cold chain. Finally, consumers may buy more food than they need, or throw it away because of confusion over ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates.
When tackling the food waste epidemic we need to make a distinction between developing and wealthier countries. Developing countries have high levels of “food loss” or unintentional wastage, often due to poor equipment, transportation and infrastructure. In contrast, wealthier countries have high levels of “food waste” - food being thrown away by consumers because they have purchased too much, or retailers rejecting food for aesthetic reasons.
Due to this difference in underlying causes, solutions need to be tailored to focus on different parts of the value chain. In developing countries solutions should focus on the beginning of the value chain where most of the food loss actually occurs. In wealthier countries, solutions should focus on the end of the value chain.
At Tetra Pak we believe that a “package should save more than it costs” and we are always working on developing technology and services to help minimise food waste and secure food production.
Developing Country Case Study: India
India is the world’s largest milk market, but only one-third of the 60 billion litres of milk traded is processed and packed. The majority of milk sold is raw and often distributed in very unhygienic conditions. It’s transported without a chilled chain, in temperatures up to 40 degrees, and sold in open markets, where consumers check the quality by dipping their hands into the milk before buying. Milk is therefore often spoiled before it reaches consumers, wasting precious food and threatening public health.
In India, we work with our customers and partners to holistically address these challenges.
Our commitment to adopting a value chain approach goes back to the 1960s, and the earliest days of the aseptic packaging solution. Packaging is crucial in protecting products from physical damage and spoilage. Our aseptic technology keeps food safe, fresh and flavorful for at least six months without refrigeration or preservatives.
Wealthier Country Case Study: The Netherlands
Tetra Pak is engaged with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs to raise consumer awareness of “sell by” (TGT) and “use by” dates. Our research found that consumers were confused about the meanings of the labels on their food, and about when food was still safe to consumer.
In fact, almost half of respondents (46%) did not know the difference between the two dates, and approximately 15% of food wasted at household level was attributed to misunderstanding of the date labelling.
To counteract this phenomenon Tetra Pak adopted a two-pronged approach: 1) a brainstorm session with key stakeholders in the food industry to come up with alternatives and other recommendations and 2) an online campaign across social media channels encouraging the Dutch public to vote on the wording that should replace TGT/THT.
‘Quality guaranteed until …’ was the most popular alternative with 40% of the vote. 60% said they would throw away food/drink less quickly with this label, as they would be less scared of getting ill from the product and trust their human senses more to determine its freshness.
Tetra Pak continues to campaign on the importance of explanatory notes to promote better consumer understanding.
As demonstrated, food waste is a global problem . . .
... but where and how waste happens is often a local issue that requires a local solution. Through a collaborative value chain approach involving farmers, producers, distributors, retailers, consumers and government, we can preserve the natural capital invested in food production and distribution, putting us in a stronger position to feed a fast-growing population in a sustainable manner.
Michael Grosse is Executive Vice President Development & Service Operations at Tetra Pak