A study has confirmed that single-use plastic packaging actually increases food waste, debunking the idea that plastics are necessary to prolong shelf life and reduce the amount of food thrown away.
An 18-month study by the sustainability charity Wrap, which looked at the sale of bananas, broccoli and cucumbers, found that food waste was increased by plastic packaging as people were often forced into buying more than they needed.
According to Marcus Gover, Wrap’s chief executive, the research found that plastic wrap “doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce,” adding: “It can in fact increase food waste in this case.”
“We found that storing food in the fridge at below five degrees gave days, weeks, and, in the case of apples, months more quality product life,” said Gover. “We found that for most items, the plastic packaging they were sold in made little or no difference to their shelf life.
“In cases where consumers had no choice but to buy more than they needed in pre-packed packaging, this could actually increase food waste,” he added.
How much food is wasted globally each year?
One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year, with domestic households the biggest culprit, followed by restaurants and retail. With an estimated 17% of global food production wasted, it is imperative that the problem is addressed urgently to develop an ecologically sound and sustainable food system. The climate crisis requires rethinking how we grow, process and distribute food, and waste is a key element.
In Britain alone, almost half a million tonnes of fresh vegetables and salad, and a quarter of a million tonnes of fresh fruit are wasted each year because they are overripe or mouldy. The total value of this wasted food in Britain is thought to exceed £2.1 billion annually.
The research found that if apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumbers and potatoes were sold individually, and the best-before dates removed, it could save more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic and about 100,000 tonnes of food.
The findings support the call on supermarkets to ditch plastic packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables.
How can I reduce food waste at home?
Watch the Why Waste? series with Massimo Bottura & Co, an exclusive series for Fine Dininig Lovers, for tips and tricks on how to use leftover food and turn waste into taste.