As mentioned in the last article of our LET’S BE HONEST SERIES, this shall be an approach to further explore possibilities to combine reducing packaging and food waste at the same time.
The paradox seems to lay in the dialectic relation between less packaging resulting in more food waste. Eliminating food packaging, as reports show, would lead to an exponential increase in food waste and greenhouse gas emissions (National Zero Waste Council, n.d.).
The most promising approach to reduce food and packaging waste at the same time is a circular food system. While for a successful change, both factors need to be tackled, like the circular model aims to, food wastage generates more harm to the environment than packaging (National Zero Waste Council, n.d.). A “restorative or regenerative system in which all products are designed and marketed with reuse and recycling in mind requires changes to occur at every phase of the food and packaging life cycle” (National Zero Waste Council, n.d.). Establishing a circular food system means rebuilding natural capital and protecting our natural habitats. The results of this system shall have positive impacts on our nature. These will be healthier and more stable soils, better biodiversity, improved air, and water quality, and much more. The main changes needed to be implemented into our current food industry are regenerative food production and less or no food waste (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, n.d.). In regards to preventing or reducing further climate change and reducing environmental harm, eliminating food waste loss, as well as reducing packaging, are both important factors.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation created a concept for a less harmful and environmentally friendly circular food system:
The most effective change is reusing and avoiding food waste. Reusing also refers to packaging. We could save a lot of packaging if we did not buy new but reuse the food we have left. Food does not need to be fresh, to be edible. We lost the tradition of conserving food. Vegetables and fruit can be stored for ages if they are conserved correctly (in packaging that you, therefore, use long-term and not only for single use). Freezing is also a huge help to preserve food. You can use leftovers or stale food for dishes and freeze them. When you don’t feel like cooking, you have a delicious meal that you just need to warm up. You also prevented your food from going to waste. Different stages of food mean different possibilities for usage and therefore no wastage. Other ways could be to make jam or compote, freeze, cook, heat, dry, or conserve with the help of salt. There are so many ways to reuse your perfectly edible goods and prevent them from going to waste. Ripe bananas can be used to sweeten your cake or cookies, or for pancakes. Sprouting garlic can be used in various ways: Frozen, for powder, for oil, for garlic butter, for garlic bread, for garlic dips, and much more (James & Kuipers, 2003).
The last stage of food is the stage where food gets wasted and therefore is important for aiming for change. Additionally, the other stages can also be considered. Not only preventing food from getting wasted in the last stage is important, but also using fresh goods in the first stages. How you store fruits and vegetables affects how fast they ripe. One of the most consumed fruits globally is the banana. Bananas produce, easily said, a gas that provokes riping. If one wants fruits or vegetables to ripe faster, they therefore only have to be stored with bananas. Consequently, storing bananas and apples together, makes apples ripen faster, which for a lot of people means wasting some of them (Maduwanthi & Marapana, 2019; Villazon, n.d.).
Being on the matter of planning, buying in a bulk is an effective way to reduce packaging. The shopping needs to be planned and the food smartly used though to avoid food wastage (National Zero Waste Council, n.d.). Buying oat flakes in bulks is an example of this. Oat flakes can be used for several drinks and meals like porridge or oat milk. Oat milk can easily be done at home with water, salt and something to sweeten the milk like agave syrup. The self-made oat milk does not last as long as bought milk. Nevertheless, it is way cheaper, means reduced packaging and can be reused in the last step like a lot of organic waste can. Boiling the oat milk generates a hair conditioner as an example for reusing the milk.
Having talked about the importance of composting many times in these articles, why not combine it with the thought of packaging? Rethinking packaging to store our food but not produce harmful plastic or other waste is an important step. In Colombia, more and more plastic or paper packaging is replaced with banana leaves. In Europe, we could use e.g. corn leaves. After usage, they can easily be used for composting. Changing to compostable or biodegradable packaging is an important step to increase the effectiveness of a circular system. Instead of eliminating packaging, packaging should be changed. Extending shelf life, meaning increasing food’s expiring date, is one of the most important steps to reduce food waste. Reports show that only one additional day to shelf-life could reduce 200 000 tonnes of food wastage per year (National Zero Waste Council, n.d.).
We cook and consume more diverse food in our globalized world. Cooking meals and using ideas and goods from all over the world increases. The change in eating habits means a change in storing and preserving habits. To exemplify, rice noodles can be stored in a zip bag in the fridge. If intended for reuse, they just have to be boiled in hot water (Top cooking stories, 2021).
Recent studies show that the biggest challenge will be to change customers’ attitudes and behavior to enforce a circular system. Many participants in a recent study declined the possibility to change to buy more expensive and shorter termed environmentally friendly products (National Zero Waste Council, n.d).
Bonardi, B. (2019, February 1). Economia circolare: la produzione alimentare è da riprogettare. Il Fatto Alimentare. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://ilfattoalimentare.it/economia-circolare-alimentare.html
Ellen Macarthur Foundation. (n.d.). Food and a circular economy. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/food/overview
Maduwanthi, S. D. T., & Marapana, R. A. U. J. (2019). Induced Ripening Agents and Their Effect on Fruit Quality of Banana (A. Simonne, Ed.). International Journal of Food Science, vol. 2019(2520179), 8. Hindawi. 10.1155/2019/2520179
National Zero Waste Council. (n.d.). Less Food Loss and Waste, Less Packaging Waste. National Zero Waste Council. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from http://www.nzwc.ca/Documents/FLWpackagingReport.PDF
National Zero Waste Council. (n.d.). Less Food Loss and Waste, Less Packaging Waste. National Zero Waste Council. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from http://www.nzwc.ca/Documents/FLWpackagingSUMMARY.PDF
Top cooking stories. (2021). How can I reuse rice noodles? topcookingstories. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://topcookingstories.com/library/lecture/read/206838-how-can-i-reuse-rice-noodles
Villazon, L. (n.d.). Why do bananas make fruit ripen faster? BBC Science Focus Magazine. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/why-do-bananas-make-fruit-ripen-faster/
For ideas and inspirations on how to reuse and store food, you can check out this report:
James, I. F., & Kuipers, B. (2003). AD03E Preservation of fruit and vegetables. Agromisa.