Food waste is an environmental, social and economic challenge. The way food is packed, transported and stored is critical to preventing this problem
Plastic is a valuable material which has revolutionised the lives of people everywhere. It can have positive environmental effects, such as replacing material that is bulkier and weighs more and thus saving carbon emissions, and extending the freshness of food, and dramatically reducing waste.
And yet, plastic’s everyday presence means we take it for granted. And due to a lack of effective waste management in many parts of the world, too much plastic waste ends up in our natural environment. This is unacceptable. Hence, making sure plastics get fully recycled is a declared goal not just for the European Commission but also the global industry, which has stepped up to work together to make this goal a reality.
At Dow, we are committed to finding ways in which we can continue to provide the convenience, affordability and safety of plastics, while focusing on advancing a circular economy of packaging by further light-weighting, designing for recyclability and incorporating alternative feedstocks.
As part of Dow’s Carbon Partnership with the International Olympic Committee, we developed a number of carbon projects to promote more sustainable packaging highlighting the net positive environmental impact of high-performance plastic packaging solutions in various applications, including transportation and food packaging. In collaboration with various industry experts, we demonstrate that the use of high-performance packaging solutions helps to protect people and goods through food protection and improved pallet load stability.
Limiting the loss of transported goods and food
Transportation of goods has significantly escalated due to current societal changes and a more globalised economy. With the increase in freight transportation distances, difficult road conditions, and the new transportation norms and legislation, load security has become a challenge for the supply chain and the freight industry. Every year, 14 billion tons of goods are transported by road in Europe. A huge part of these is estimated to have been lost or damaged during transportation. Cargo failures represent a major safety, economic, legal and waste issue. This risk can be mitigated by high-performance packaging solutions for transporting goods.
On the other hand, highly functional packaging has a role to play when it comes to prolonging the shelf life of food and avoid having the resources consumed during its production go to waste. Take meat, for example. According to FAO, total emissions from global livestock represents 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Despite meat being a relatively low contributor to global food wastage in terms of volume (less than 5% of total food wastage), it has a significant impact on climate change, contributing to more than 20% of the total carbon footprint related to food waste.
Retailers, brand owners, logistic and shipping companies are looking for solutions to help reduce those impacts, and Dow is playing a role as a leading material science company.
A path to fewer emissions
Our packaging carbon projects are designed to generate carbon benefits by introducing more sustainable packaging solutions and collaborating with value chain partners to accelerate the adoption of low-carbon technologies. We see a path to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions through preventing loss of goods during distribution and extending the shelf life of food in shops and supermarkets.
1) Optimising packaging solutions for transported goods by advancing a circular economy
Reliably securing freight during transportation while optimising available space is a major challenge for the supply chain and freight industry. In collaboration with the European Safe Logistics Association (EUMOS) and Valueing, a firm expert in transportation packaging and cargo securing, Dow is working on a project aiming to incorporate post-consumer recycled resins into packaging films, while downgauging packaging stretch films and optimising pallet load stability.
The project demonstrates that the use of high-performance packaging solutions helps to improve pallet load stability and reduce cargo failures. It also improves safety for both people and goods, helps reduce waste, and ensures that food and other merchandise are protected and transported safely from the manufacturer to the end consumer. The impacts will be quantified as GHG emissions reduction in both lowering the carbon footprint of the packaging itself, as well as reducing the loss of goods during transportation.
Dow’s Load Stability Innovation Center in Pack Studios Tarragona is a unique offering in the EMEA region. The facilities enable the production and testing of innovative and sustainable packaging solutions delivering high load stability, package integrity and durability to improve pallet load stability and reduce cargo failures. We believe that packaging optimisation, pallet load stability and transport simulation exercises can help companies reduce costs and CO2 emissions.
2) Reducing food loss with packaging improvements
Our carbon project with AEON in Japan is aimed to demonstrate that food loss (e.g. meat and other high-value fresh food) can be prevented by promoting the adoption of a vacuum skin packaging (VSP). In teaming up with AEON on this project, the goal is twofold: to integrate new packaging technologies that preserve food freshness and deliver quantifiable environmental impacts, while raising awareness with consumers on the issue of food loss and its importance.
While the VSP significantly increased food shelf life (e.g. for beef by 10 days), it had not been widely adopted in Japan until we started the project. One of the suspected reasons was the colour of the meat packed in VSP (slightly dark / purple-red for beef, due to exclusion of oxygen) was not well perceived by consumers, generally associating bright red colour of beef as the sign of freshness. Together with AEON and its group company Daiei, Dow is working on launching multiple in-store promotions, creating videos, magazine and TV features to raise awareness for packaging and build acceptance by consumers. The progress of the project looks promising. The AEON Group is expanding the use of VSP for different applications as well as increasing numbers of stores adopting VSP. Additionally, it also appeals to customers who do not want to visit the supermarket so often amidst the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
During our webinar, ‘addressing waste and food challenges through sustainable packaging’, we explored how the negative impacts of waste and food loss, could be mitigated by sustainable packaging solutions and partnerships across value chains. Together with Yumie Kawashima (AEON) and Ángel David Hernández (Valueing), we presented case studies that can help alleviate this global problem. Watch the recording to listen to insights and first-hand experiences.
Hirokazu Shibata is a technology and sustainability leader for Asia Pacific, Dow Olympic & Sports Solutions, Dow. Karlheinz Hausmann is a global R&D Fellow, Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics, Dow.