Packaging with purpose | BusinessGreen Sponsored
I consider myself lucky to be able to go to the supermarket while filling my basket with the food I need and enjoy. Until recently, headlines focused on food waste rather than food shortages.
However, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned that grain and fertilizer shortages caused by war, warming temperatures and pandemic-induced supply problems threaten to tip dozens of million people in food insecurity and it could go on for years if left unchecked.
When global food supply chains are threatened, every step of the chain and the technologies involved are thrust into the center of attention and into action. For me, food safety is something that I have had to consider throughout my career at Dow. As a seasoned innovator in the plastics and packaging industry, we have been at the forefront of discovering materials and technologies that allow us to extend the longevity of food and find ways to effectively support global food supply chains to reach the mouths they feed around the world. world.
How does Dow support the global food supply chain?
Dow products and technologies support the food packaging industry, including meat and cheese, fruits and vegetables, snacks and cereals, coffee and confectionery, and even pet food.
For years, Dow has strived to provide quality products to the end consumer with proven ingredients. We have innovated to create unique, high-performance food packaging that helps preserve the flavor and quality of food, protect food from spoilage, and ensure safety and freshness, security and sustainability for consumers around the world. . In fact, well-designed innovative food packaging can help:
- Protect food delivered over longer distances for grocery retailer online sales and food subscription boxes from damage while reducing shipping weight and bulk
- Reduce food waste by extending food distribution and shelf life and preventing premature spoilage
- Allow less preservatives, additives and saturated fats through improved seals and barrier layers
One of Dow’s purpose-built sites in Spain, Pack Studios Tarragona, is where these designs come to life. We take a collaborative approach to accelerating sustainable packaging innovations, engaging with packaging experts across the value chain to create food packaging focused on freshness, safety and sustainability.
What role do plastics play in ensuring food reaches people around the world?
The global trend towards healthier diets is driving increased demand for fresh produce. But surprisingly, 45% of all fruit and vegetables produced are wasted. Although it may seem to some that plastic wrapping individually wrapped cucumbers is wasteful, in fact, this plastic wrapping can almost triple the length of time the vegetable stays fresh. For instancea cucumber wrapped in plastic can stay fresh for up to 14 days, while an unwrapped cucumber stays fresh for around five days, meaning it is more likely to reach markets to be sold and eaten, rather than spoiled and wasted.
Our technologies also support longevity in the early stages of the supply chain. Take agriculture for example: in Kenya, we introduced Mama Silage Bags, innovative storage bags using a unique multi-layer film structure designed to help improve food storage and reduce waste. By enabling Kenyan farmers to better preserve feed for dairy cows, it helps provide a steady supply of milk, which is an integral part of supply chains in countries like Kenya, where 80% of the milk produced comes from small dairy farmers.
Plastic packaging not only extends the shelf life of fresh produce, it can also help retain its nutritional value. For instance, broccoli can lose up to 80% of its glucosinolatesa group of phytochemicals thought to be responsible for some of the major health benefits of the crop when unpackaged on supermarket shelves, compared to plastic packaging.
Can plastic packaging really help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
The UN has found that around 931 million tonnes of food, or 17% of the total food available to consumers in 2019, was wasted.
Reducing food waste can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with around 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions associated with uneaten food. In fact, the The World Economic Forum suggests that around 6-8% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stopped wasting food. If we were to remove all packaging from food, most of the time the harvest would spoil before it was eaten and food waste would increase. One of the main advantages of plastic packaging is its ability to protect food during transit, which means it reaches consumers undamaged or spoiled in transit, reducing waste.
Flexible packaging, including the films, wraps, and pouches we see used in food packaging, provides more efficient transportation compared to rigid containers (like plastic bottles and jars). This means that when it comes to transporting items through supply chains, larger volumes of flexible packaging can be packed into vehicles for transport. And there are significant carbon savings associated with the ability to carry more per vehicle.
Comparing the performance and durability of plastic packaging with other materials can often provide a more complex decision than you might imagine. Take glass for example, the biggest advantage is that it is infinitely recyclable, right back to its original use. However, it is much more energy intensive to produce than plastic – it takes twice as much energy to produce – and due to its exponentially greater weight, more carbon intensive to transport through the supply chain. . Plastic, on the other hand, although less likely to be recycled at present, is much less carbon intensive to produce.
Ensuring a sustainable future, without compromising on performance
Of course, this is not to say that plastic packaging is the solution to food supply problems, the overuse of packaging is a problem that needs to be addressed – that is, the use of excessive packaging. The challenge is to use the right amount of plastic packaging that provides functionality with the least amount of resources, while ensuring that it is fully recyclable after use.
There is no doubt that reducing the amount of plastic we use is an integral part of a more sustainable future and ensures that the plastic we use is conserved in a circular economy. This is at the heart of Dow’s strategy moving forward – we’re investing in breakthrough sustainability innovations to make plastic packaging more easily recyclable by design. We are also investing in a number of innovative recycling technologies that will transform the recycling process and one day allow us to recycle all plastics, endlessly.
In 2021, we announced our collaboration with Bolloré on a pilot project that enables the use of recycled content in new food contact packaging applications, which in turn can be recycled after use. We are also partnering with Mura Technology, to scale chemical recycling technology that can recycle all forms of plastics, including multi-layer flexible plastics often used in food packaging. This is incredibly exciting territory, as packaging typically used for food applications is not easily recyclable due to regulatory compliance needs. But finding and scaling new solutions here will allow us to accelerate our mission to close the loop and advance a circular, net-zero plastics industry.
Looking to the future…
We are innovators for a circular and sustainable future, leading the transition from a linear economy to one that reduces, reuses and recycles to keep materials at their highest use value for as long as possible. By 2030, Dow will help “stop waste” by enabling one million tonnes of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled. And by 2035, Dow will “close the loop” by allowing 100% of Dow products sold in packaging applications to be reusable or recyclable.
An uninterrupted supply and abundant choice of food is often taken for granted in developed countries, and it is only when supply is threatened that we are reminded how precious it truly is. Tackling the problem of global food security is of course a monumental challenge that requires the international cooperation of governments, NGOs and the private sector. And while plastic packaging may not be the answer to all of our food needs, when used effectively, it plays a vital role in supporting our global food supply chains. I am excited about the challenge ahead of us – to continue to innovate in polymers with purpose so that we can move towards a circular and net zero economy in which we recycle everything food packaging.
Angels Domenech is Director of Technical Services and Development EMEA at Dow.
This article is sponsored by Dow.