About a third of all food produced is wastedi. The production and distribution of food requires an enormous amount of resources such as water and fuel. Wasted food accounts for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissionsii. Wasting food is also a moral problem when 690 million people worldwide are hungryiii.
“Reducing food waste would bring the whole world many benefits,” says Tiina Pursula, SVP Sustainability, Division Packaging Materials at Stora Enso. “With less food waste we could meet the need for food and nutrition with less production, so we would reduce CO2 emissions and agricultural runoff. With less land under cultivation more areas could stay wild, helping improve biodiversity. Also, we can’t forget the impact on people who need this food.”
Much food waste occurs before it ever reaches the dinner table. About 14% is lost between the farm and store, 5% is thrown out from restaurants, and 2% is discarded from retail stores. Households account for about 11% of food wasteiv. Yet much of this waste could be reduced with proper packaging.
Fiber-based packaging materials can improve food safety
“Food safety is one key reason why customers come to us for packaging materials and solutions. They need to keep their food fresh and safe from the farm to the table,” Pursula explains. “A very common reason we are contacted is also to help improve their sustainability. Every customer has specific needs, so we talk to them to find the right solutions together.”
The purity and hygiene of food packaging materials is a top priority. While the purity of fresh wood fiber is high, it is important to manage purity whenever using recycled materials where substances like old printing ink residues could leave trace chemicals behind. Recycled fibers work well in some uses, such as boxes for unpeeled or unwashed products like bananas or potatoes. Also, a barrier layer can be used to separate food from the recycled fibers. Both fresh and recycled fiber-based packaging are part of the same sustainable product cycle offering sustainable and safe options for various uses.
There are many other factors to consider for packaging, such as the ability to withstand moisture or drastic temperature changes. These are particularly important for the shelf life of products and to reduce food waste. Wood fiber-based materials are a responsible choice, thanks to their recyclability and performance.
Design circularity into packaging
“Many companies have made commitments to replace fossil plastics, lower their carbon footprint, or have more recyclable packaging in their portfolio. Many of these goals can be achieved with wood fiber-based packaging,” Pursula points out. “Consumers also perceive paper-based packaging as preferable, so it could even help to improve sales. Paper based packaging provides a good printing surface, no additional labels are needed”
A key goal for companies is developing packaging which can be recycled. Over 80% of all fiber-based packaging is recycled in Europe. About half of beverage cartons in Europe are currently recycled, but the industry’s goal is to increase this to 70% by 2030. To hit this ambitious target requires more recycling capacity, so Stora Enso and the food packaging company Tetra Pak are investing in a new recycling unit with 50,000 tonnes capacity in Poland. Stora Enso is also involved in industry-level engagement to help set guidelines for circular design, collection and sorting and recycling protocols.
“We need to design circularity into packaging,” says Pursula. “If we include recyclability and circularity from the very beginning of product development we can have a major positive impact, not just on sustainability but also on environment and society. With better packaging replacing plastics we can distribute food more efficiently, which means less waste and increased nutrition and well-being.”