With food and packaging waste firmly on the radar of consumers, manufacturers can work to combat the issue with products and packaging designed for a lighter impact on the planet.  Research from Karlstad University has shown that up to 25% of consumer waste could be reduced through optimized packaging.

Reducing waste is a farm-to-fork, field-to-table effort, noted Pete Pearson, director of food waste for the World Wildlife Fund.

“Environmental benefits are greatest when waste is avoided and not created,” Mr. Pearson said. “For food waste, we are trying to reduce the size of the compost piles, even though diverting food waste away from landfills and recycling is a top priority. We don’t grow food to compost it. We feel the same could be true for packaging waste. To reduce packaging waste, we advocate for a three-pronged approach: eliminate single-use packaging where possible, shift to sustainable sources in situations where packaging is critical for food safety and freshness and dramatically increase global recovery of packaging materials.”

Extended shelf life packaging is one way to keep food fresh longer. “Bakery and snack manufacturers already have packaging that is extending the shelf life of products, in turn lowering food waste,” Mr. Pearson noted.

As part of shelf life extension, modified atmosphere packaging and intelligent/active packaging can provide more information to users on freshness.

There are other steps that baking and snack companies can take to limit waste. “Most of the bakery and snack products we buy are sold in single-use plastic films or packaging,” Mr. Pearson said. “A next step is ensuring that this packaging can be recycled and that there are extremely easy collection systems and awareness campaigns in place to ensure proper recycling,”

 Another shift is for manufacturers to produce packaging from post-consumer content. “This increases the demand and value of secondary materials, creating incentive to keep packaging materials in the system and out of landfills and nature,” he remarked.

As for the future, innovative solutions are likely to emerge after a greater collective effort. “From my perspective, the holy grail is food packaging that can be a value-add to composting and/or anaerobic digestion systems,” Mr. Pearson said. “The problem we run into with food packaging is contamination from food with industrial recycling systems. If we can run everything through an organic recycling system where it adds value and doesn’t further contaminate compost or anaerobic digestion systems, then we’re moving in the right direction.”