October 14, 2022
Retailers around the world are stepping up to the challenge of food waste, from improving tracking and measuring of food waste to donating to food banks and scrapping use-by dates. But there is lots more to do. Here we unpack the food waste initiatives we believe could make the biggest impact across the value chain.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter globally. One third of all food produced never gets consumed, and an alarming 8% of GHG emissions worldwide can be attributed to food waste.
When food is wasted, all the resources that were expended in the supply chain are lost. To lessen the impact, we need to look at entire food systems and collaborate to minimise loss and waste across every step of the value chain.
“To tackle food waste in a meaningful way, we should take a radical new approach to how we feed the planet,” says Lars Holmquist, Executive Vice President Sustainability & Communications, Tetra Pak. “We should rethink how we source and produce our food, how we transport it, the materials we use to package it and everything in between. It should be a global transformation towards decarbonisation, healthier diets and sustainable food systems.”
Labelling can play a big part in transforming the global food system. According to the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), ‘best before’ refers to food quality, and the food can often be after that date. On the other hand, ‘use by’ refers to food safety, and foods should NOT be eaten after that date.
However, universally, there is a lack of understanding amongst consumers around expiry dates and what they mean, which leads to food waste. Sustainability experts at WRAP have estimated that out of 490 million pints of milk wasted, 85 million are thrown away because customers stick to the ‘use-by’ date.
In the 2020 edition of the Tetra Pak Index, 39% of global consumers said they throw away food because the ‘best before’ date has passed, even if it doesn’t smell or look bad. Meanwhile, 30% would ‘never’ consider consuming a product after its expiry date, and over a third would only do so for certain products.
Scrapping ‘use-by’ and ‘best before’ dates altogether is one potential solution to food waste, as many US and UK supermarkets are doing. It empowers consumers to be a part of the solution, as they become the ones who determine whether the food gets used. Of course, the success of these actions will depend on whether consumers notice and understand the difference, and whether they’re able to adjust their behaviour in a way that makes an impact.
Educating consumers on any misconceptions can go a long way in the fight against food waste and clarifying their perception of products – especially product quality – is very important.
For example, in some countries, pasteurised milk is seen as more fresh than UHT (ultra-high temperature) treated milk. However, pasteurisation and UHT are simply different heat treatments that have different influences on product taste. UHT milk has a longer shelf life and a lower carbon footprint because it does not require a cold chain.
In 2020, Tetra Pak ran an information campaign in Middle East and Africa explaining that UHT milk represents a safe, healthy and convenient way to access the nutritional benefits of white milk. Videos addressing consumers’ most asked questions about UHT were promoted online and via social media, amassing more than 15 million views to date.
This demonstrates the power of consumer education, specifically on the food waste front.
Food waste can also be reduced through innovative food packaging solutions. For example, aseptic packaging enables producers to better plan production, reducing the amount of raw materials wasted. And by prolonging the shelf life of products with processing solutions such as pasteurisation and UHT treatment combined with aseptic packages, food waste can be reduced.
When it comes to distribution, aseptic packaging is extremely cost-efficient, as well as making it possible for manufacturers to reach consumers in remote locations.
Providing the right-sized packages can also help reduce food waste. When food manufacturers have a wider range of packaging formats to choose from, consumers can select the package that best matches their consumption needs. These can help tackle wasteful patterns of food consumption and deliver safe, nutritious and flavourful food that is resource-efficient to produce and transport.
Food loss at the source is another part of the wider challenge that must be tackled. By advancing processing technologies, food manufacturers can get more out of the raw material, upcycling production waste, rather than discarding it.
For instance, when producing soy milk and tofu, a part of the puréed soybeans is usually discarded. Together with our customers, we have developed a whole bean processing solution to capture this unwanted material and turn it into high-value ingredients. First, soya beans are ground to a soya base. After this, fibrous residue (okara) is separated from the soya base. Not only does this eliminate waste, but the reuse of okara also means a creamier end-product can be achieved.
Transforming the global food system is a monumental task and no company will be able to resolve this challenge in isolation. It will require long-term focus and systems-level thinking to connect with all the relevant players across the food value chain. And it will require a series of big actions that we can all take to augment decisive, systemic change.