There is a sustainability-related debate that continues to arise which is both fascinating and brain-frying at the same time. The topic under debate is whether food waste or packaging waste is worse for the environment. Many researchers have attempted to answer this question and the results are all over the map depending on what variables are considered, how food waste is defined, and what lifespan packaging is given.
This week, we want to explore this debate ourselves while also providing some tips that can help tackle both food waste and packaging waste at the same time.
What the research says
1- Packaging is not reducing food waste: Packaging has many purposes, such as communicating a brand’s value to consumers, but it is also designed to extend the amount of time food can last before it goes to waste. While packaging has proven to be effective at preserving food for longer, it has not necessarily proven to actually reduce food waste (1). A study done in Europe showed that the application of packaging has increased alongside the growth in food waste (2). This is partially due to the fact that food waste that occurs at the household level is caused by factors that packaging alone cannot fix, such as consumers over-purchasing food or lacking effective preservation techniques for leftovers. As a result, more than a third of food produced and distributed in Canada never gets eaten (3).
2- Packaging should not be our only target: While packaging gets a lot of deserved hate because of how obvious its negative impact is on our environment, we may be letting a more harmful factor off the hook. Methane emissions, which come from food waste, are about 25 times more impactful on our climate than carbon (4). In addition, many Life Cycle Assessments, which is a research method that calculates the environmental footprint of something over the course of its lifecycle, indicate that how food is made and transported accounts for the majority of a product’s environmental footprint, while packaging makes up very little (5). In short, while our efforts to reduce packaging are definitely worth doing, we should not neglect any efforts to reduce our food waste just because food waste’s negative impact on our environment cannot be easily seen.
Tips & Tricks
The debate over whether food waste or packaging waste is worse for the planet will continue to unfold, but in the meantime let’s practice lifestyle habits that don’t produce food waste or require packaging! See our tips below and add your tricks in the comments!
- Use natural methods to preserve your food: If you put cut veggies in cold water, they won’t wilt!
- Replace single-use solutions with reusable ones: Pillow cases make great bread bags, and plates can easily be used instead of plastic wrap. A bonus to using plates, is that you can also stack bowls on top of each other if your fridge is short on space.
- Give single-use containers a second life: Instead of recycling your yogurt containers, rinse them out and use them again as a lunch container! If you are going to re-heat any food however, make sure you transfer it into a microwavable plate or bowl. Yogurt containers are not meant to be heated.
- Freeze what you can: If you have leftover herbs, use an ice cube tray and sprinkle cut herbs into each compartment then fill with oil.
- Keep dinner where it’s cooked: Instead of buying tupperware in every size possible, consider leaving prepared meals in the pots you cooked them in.
- Meal prep so you don’t have leftovers!
(1) Institute for European Environmental Policy. Plastic Packaging and Food Waste – new perspectives on a dual sustainability crisis. Last Revised: April 10 2018. https://ieep.eu/publications/plastic-packaging-and-food-waste-new-perspectives-on-a-dual-sustainability-crisis.
(2) Schweitzer, J. P., et al. “Unwrapped: How throwaway plastic is failing to solve Europe’s food waste problem (and what we need to do instead).” Institute for European Environmental Policy (2018).
(3) Love Food Hate Waste Canada. https://lovefoodhatewaste.ca/about/food-waste/
(4) “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
(5) “Our Planet.” Left Coast Naturals. https://leftcoastnaturals.com/sustainability/our-planet/