Packaging has a vital role to play in minimising food waste in the supply chain, according to new research by RMIT University.
The University's Centre for Design conducted the Australian-first research, commissioned by CHEP Australia, showing where and why food waste occurs along both the fresh and manufactured food supply chain.
The research also proposes opportunities for the food manufacturing industry to address food waste through sustainable primary, secondary and tertiary packaging.
The study, released to industry members and media on 25 June at Sydney's Red Lantern on Riley restaurant, also considers how food waste can and should influence packaging design, and follows on from the AFGC's Future of Packaging whitepaper.
According to Dr Karli Verghese, who led the research study titled The role of packaging in minimising food waste in the supply chain of the future, there has been no other significant research into the role packaging plays in minimising food waste in Australia.
"Packaging actually plays a critical role in protecting fresh produce and processed food in transit, in storage, at point of sale and prior to consumption. In doing so it helps deliver a wide range of functions while reducing food waste."
The report shows that food manufacturing is the second largest contributor to the 1.5m tonnes of food waste generated by Australia's commerical and industrial sector each year, sending 312,000t to landfill. It was trumped only by food services, which contributes 661,000t of waste.
However, food manufacturing recovers the vast majority of its waste, with 90 percent repurposed.
Poor inventory management, overstocking shelves and product damage during transport and handling were all listed as avoidable contributors to food waste in the supply chain.
Other contributors are present in agricultural production, including damage from pests and disease; unpredictable weather conditions and produce not meeting quality specifications as well as wastage at home including food preparation waste; food spoilage; preparing too much food; and used-by or best-before dates passing. (See table below for other contributors).
In terms of the consumer market, earlier this year a report conducted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that inadequate storage facilities, strict sell-by dates, bulk buying offers and fussy consumers contribute to as much as 50 percent of the world's food ending up as waste.
"There are certainly opportunities to minimise food waste through packaging innovation and design, such as improved ventilation and temperature control for fresh produce, and better understanding the dynamics between different levels of packaging, to ensure they are designed fit-for-purpose," said Verghese.