Eating into the problem of food waste

In their efforts to become more sustainable, businesses have tended to focus on climate change or plastic pollution, overlooking the equally serious problem of food waste


SPONSORED BY Futamura

Both food and plastic waste can be best tackled by ensuring the optimum disposal route is considered for the product involved, while a broader adoption of compostable packaging has a critical role to play.

About a third of the waste we create is biodegradable and should be composted, but around half still ends up in landfill where it rots and produces methane gas, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases driving
climate change.

Opportunities to turn this biowaste into clean energy or soil-enriching compost are also lost, along with the energy and water that went into producing the wasted food in the first place.

UK consumers are alive to the issue, as seen by the growing adoption of compostable packaging, acceptance of imperfectly shaped fruit and vegetables, and uptake of apps to reduce food waste.

Indeed, the wider problem has been recognised by the UK government that has set out plans in the Environment Bill for food waste to be collected separately from all households in England by 2023. The Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), meanwhile, has committed to eliminating food waste from landfill in England by 2030.

According to Defra, if all local authorities provided kerbside food waste collection, the amount collected would increase by 1.35 million tonnes by 2029, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1.25 million tonnes a year.

Collection and infrastructure are evolving fast and there are already more than 50 facilities in the UK taking in compostable packaging with their organic waste.

What can brands do?

Big brands have been slow to see that consumers’ views are changing on composting and food waste. According to a recent Populus survey, commissioned by the compostable packaging company TIPA, some 85 per cent of British consumers believe more compostable packaging should be used to wrap food as an alternative to plastic.

Already we are seeing ethical and challenger brands adopt such packaging to good effect and, if bigger brands want to be part of the change, they must embrace it too for the right products.

Futamura, a Japanese company with manufacturing sites in the UK, United States and Japan, is one of the compostable packaging manufacturers leading the way in this area. It produces a fully compostable transparent film for food packaging that offers the performance of conventional plastic and is used by large food and pharmaceutical companies around the world.

Rather than using petrochemicals, the material – marketed as NatureFlex – is made from readily renewable cellulose derived from wood pulp, sourced exclusively from responsibly managed tree plantations.

It is light, durable and delivers an excellent barrier to maintain freshness and reduce waste from start to finish, or farm to fork. It can be used in a host of different ways, including as packaging for snacks, fresh produce, medicine, confectionery, tea and coffee, bakery goods and cheese.

Plastics versus compostables

Brands do not need to abandon plastics to make good use of compostable packaging. Certain types of plastic packaging, such as soft drinks bottles, can already be recycled effectively and may remain an appropriate choice in sustainability terms.

Instead, brands should focus on packaging that is harder to recycle or where contamination by residual food takes place. Take, for example, a ready meal tray, where the tray itself may be recyclable but the plastic film that covers it is not, making it impossible to recycle the whole thing.

Tea bags, fruit labels and sandwich skillets often contain plastics, which mean they will not get recycled and could inadvertently contaminate compost. Once these plastics are dispersed into the environment, they do not biodegrade and may harm ecosystems.

Yet all these applications can now be delivered in compostable solutions. Similarly, how can it be acceptable to use a plastic coffee pod when compostable solutions exist, offering the same performance and consumer convenience?

Biowaste that is properly managed can become a huge asset for the UK

Currently, biowaste facilities must limit the contamination rate of plastics and other non compostables to around 5 per cent by weight. However, the UK Environment Agency wants to tighten this to just 0.5 per cent, amid mounting concerns over microplastics entering the environment. Compostable packaging will reduce this problem.

For brands looking to lead the way on this issue, robust and independent certification is key. Futamura’s products hold the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is a gold-standard designation for wood harvested from forests that are managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious and
economically viable.

It means Futamura’s films are independently confirmed as compostable through certification to relevant global standards for industrial and home composting.

Benefits of compostable packaging

Brands have spoken out effectively about issues such as climate change, race and gender equality, and organic waste is set to become another such hot-button topic. However, most brands have only taken baby steps towards changing their practices.

Some are put off by the upfront cost of some types of compostable packaging, but as consumers respond positively to the brand’s actions, sales typically rise, more than compensating for the initial investment. Conversely, doing nothing can alienate customers, costing the business more in the long run.

Biowaste that is properly managed can become a huge asset for the UK. For every tonne that is composted, 1,000 KgCo2eq of greenhouse emissions are saved and 300KWh of electricity is generated, enough to power a family home for a month. In addition, 850 litres of fertilising digestate is created that can be combined with garden waste to create optimum fertilising and soil-structure remediating compost.

The “circular economy” has become a buzz term in business, but few companies truly embody the philosophy. Embracing renewable and compostable packaging for their products offers companies the chance to demonstrate true circularity, from farm to fork and back to the farm again. With focus on the plastic waste problem, consumers have never had more power to influence the packaging choices of the future.

For more information please visit Natureflex.com