Plastic food packaging fails in tackling environmental food waste

EUROPE – Plastic food packaging has failed to reduce food waste, but rather seems to be compounding the food waste problem in Europe, where packaging and waste has doubled between 2004 and 2014.

In a new study published by NGOs Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe, food waste doubled to an estimated 30 million tonnes per year while packaging waste increased by between 40 and 50%.

While food manufacturers adopted plastic packaging as a way to preserve food and reduce food waste, this has not been the case as the annual output of Europeans now stands at 30kg and 173kg in food and packaging waste.

Wrapping, bottling and packing food, meant to prevent food waste has instead escalated it.

Plastic waste, used to package 37% of the food sold in the EU is said to be used only once leading it into landfill sites, being incinerated or polluting waterways, with single-use plastics constituting 85% of beach waste around the world reported Euractiv.

In a way to curb plastic pollution, the EC proposed a legislation to ban single-use of plastics in Mid-May, after concerns that Europe could block UK plastic straws ban.

This follows intense pressure on the EU executive from activists who have accused the commission of failure to push for a directive and enact a legislation that would tackle food waste.

France was the first country to pass a law that requires large shops and supermarkets donate unsold food to food banks and other charities to tackle food waste.

Italy and Derambarsh followed suite, by banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, something said to have been pushed by strong campaigns, shoppers, anti-poverty groups and those opposed to food waste.

The study suggests that packers could explore more sustainable alternatives such as glass, whose recycling rates are high e.g. 74% in the EU and over 95% in some countries like Belgium and Sweden.

In 2014, less than a third of plastic waste was recycled.

According to FEVE, the European Container Glass Federation, glass would not replace plastic but should be included to a far greater extent in recycling plans, something that would make glass the reference model.

Plastics menace, which comes with oceanic pollution, saw China ban plastic waste imports from the UK, impacting heavily on UK recycling efforts, risking plastic waste being stockpiled or ending up in landfill.

This triggered EU to start exploring remedies to plastic waste, launched the Plastics Strategy while the UK government came up with measures like the deposit-return scheme, intended to boost recycling rates.

Manufacturers and producers are also on a wake-up call to tackle the global problem through voluntary commitments, faced with a challenge to seek alternative packaging for their food and beverage products.

Nestle, believed to be the world’s biggest packaged food company announced plans to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, way much before EU’s 2030 strategy to ensure all plastic packaging on its market are recyclable.

In its sustainability report, Nestle said that it was focusing on eliminating non-recyclable plastics and promoting easier-to-process materials instead, plans criticized by activist groups like Greenpeace who termed the announcement as an exercise in greenwashing due to a lack of quantitative targets.

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