plastic packaging

Plastic packaging may increase food waste, finds report

Not only does wrapping food in plastic packaging hurt the environment by producing more plastic waste, it can also increase food waste by forcing customers to buy more than they actually need.

That’s according to a new 18-month study by sustainability charity Wrap, reported in the Guardian, which concluded that supermarkets, grocers, and other food merchants should stop selling fresh produce such as apples and potatoes in plastic packaging.

The report found that such packaging, which is evidentially bad for the environment, does not make fresh food last longer and so adds to pollution and food waste for little purpose.

Marcus Gover, Wrap’s chief executive, said that while packaging was important and often carried out a critical role to protect food, the research found that plastic wrap “doesn’t necessarily prolong the life” of uncut fresh produce. “It can in fact increase food waste in this case.”

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Packaging is just one factor that contributes to food waste, along with considerations such as selling size and storage conditions. However, Gover notes that Wrap’s study, which focused on apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber, and potatoes, found that for “most items”, plastic packaging does little or nothing to extend 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.”

Wrap calculated that if these five products were sold loose with the best-before dates removed, it could save more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic and about 100,000 tonnes of food from being wasted each year – the equivalent of 14m shopping baskets of food.

Such an approach would theoretically allow consumers to buy the right amount of food and use their own judgment, rather than date labels, to decide if food was still good. One in 10 people dump groceries based on the date, resulting in good food being thrown out.