Packaging has a vital role to play within the supply chain in minimizing food waste. That’s according to a new study conducted by RMIT University’s Centre for Design and commissioned by CHEP Australia that study shows where—and why—food waste occurs along both the fresh and manufactured food supply chain. The study also proposes opportunities for industry to reduce food waste in the supply chain through innovative and sustainable primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging.
RMIT Senior Research Fellow Dr Karli Verghese led the research study, titled “The role of packaging in minimising food waste in the supply chain of the future,” which addresses a knowledge gap identified by the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s Future of Packaging white paper (RMIT University, April 2012) regarding understanding food waste to inform product and packaging design, and focuses on the commercial and industrial food supply chain.
Says Dr Verghese, “Food security is an emerging challenge for both policy makers and companies in the fresh and manufactured food supply chains, however, no significant research had previously been conducted into the role that packaging plays in minimizing food waste in the supply chain in Australia.
“Packaging actually plays a critical role in protecting fresh produce and processed food in transit, in storage, at point of sale, and prior to consumption. In doing so, it helps deliver a wide range of functions while reducing food waste.”
While households are the largest generator of food waste to landfill (2.7 million tonnes each year), the report shows that in the commercial and industrial sector, the largest generators are food services (661,000 tonnes), followed by food manufacturing (312,000 tonnes), retailing (179,000 tonnes), and wholesale distribution (83,000 tonnes). However, food waste recovery rates are extremely high in the manufacturing sector, with 90% of waste repurposed.
“While some food waste in the supply chain is inevitable—for example, trimmings from fresh produce and preparation waste in manufacturing and food services—other waste is avoidable,” Dr Verghese says. “Our research identified opportunities for improvement where food waste is incurred through things like poor inventory management, overstocking of shelves, or product damage during transport and handling.
“There are certainly opportunities to minimize food waste through packaging innovation and design, such as improved ventilation and temperature control for fresh produce, and better understanding the dynamics between different levels of packaging, to ensure they are designed fit-for-purpose.”
Solutions for the full supply chain
Among the reasons cited by the study for food waste in the supply chain, and the suggestions presented to solve these issues are the following:
Problem A: Post-harvest—not meeting specifications for quality and/or appearance
Solution B: Distribution packaging that provides better protection and shelf life for fresh produce as it moves from farm to processor
A. Processing and packaging—inadequate remaining shelf life
B. Adoption of new packaging materials and technology to extend shelf life of fresh and processed food.
A. Distribution (wholesale & retail)—damage in transit/storage due to packaging failures
B. Improved design of secondary packaging to ensure it is fit-for-purpose and protects the food through the supply chain
A. Distribution—product spoilage
B. Increased use of retail-ready packaging to reduce double-handling and damage and improve turnover
A. Food service—confusion over best-before dates
B. Education about the meaning of use-by and best-before date marks on primary packaging