Packaged Food Design Flaws Create Millions of Tons of Food Waste

After a recent report made headlines when it was revealed that one third of all food—1 billion tons—ends up uneaten and instead in landfills around the world, some hopeful news has surfaced about reducing food waste through packaging innovation.

Ulf Sonesson from the Swedish Institute for Food Production and Biotechnology and one of the report’s authors on food waste believes that “smart” packaging can reduce food waste in western economies where pre-packaged food is far more prevalent than in developing nations. Food waste in the U.S. and Europe creates, on average, more than 200 pounds per person, compared with just 13 pounds per person in developing countries.

Sonneson states that packaging which enables users to securely close a product after opening it can prolong shelf life and ultimately reduce waste, “Environmental indicators in packages, such as temperature monitors, can help reveal the environmental status (and freshness) of food contained within the package.”

Improved packaging design is going to be a critical factor in waste reduction, says Sonneson, citing as an example the yogurt cup, because it is impossible to empty out the product entirely of its contents. Multiply that by the millions of yogurt containers sold daily and the food waste picture expands beyond leftovers sitting too long in the fridge—a systemic flaw in packaged foods means millions of tons of edible trash. But the biggest waste does come from fruits and vegetables with roots such as potato, cassava and taro making up 40 to 55 percent of food waste.

Quality perception and a careless attitude have also been linked to excessive food waste, particularly in the U.S. and European markets. Whether misshapen fruits and vegetables, or “best by” dates on some non-perishable food items, these are the behaviors than can lead consumers to throw away food still safe to eat.

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Photo: Jill Ettinger