The mission to cut food waste in the U.S. moves up the national priority list as the USDA and EPA set a target of 50% reduction by 2030. Their action is consistent with both research and directions that FPA and the flexible packaging industry have been emphasizing in recent years.
In a press release announcing the first-ever food waste goal, USDA and EPA asks for a partnership involving the private sector and local government. The federal departments say that food loss and waste accounts for some 31% of the overall food supply in the U.S. That is 133 billion pounds of food each year. The press release was distributed early last Fall.
The agencies say food security, resource conservation and climate change are among drivers for the effort. The press release cites environmental impact, noting lost resources that go into growing wasted food along with resources in processing and distribution. It also puts a spotlight on the methane gas the results from wasted food, saying that landfills are the third largest source of methane in the U.S.
Leading the Discussion
“The new priority reflects thinking behind a Flexible Packaging Association initiative that started in 2013,” says FPA President Marla Donahue. That year, she notes, FPA commissioned major research on the scope of food waste. The study, “The Role of Flexible Packaging in Reducing Food Waste,” points out that food accounts for 22% of U.S. municipal solid waste. Some 44% of that waste comes from homes and becomes tonnage that goes into landfills.
A second FPA report, “The Value of Flexible Packaging in Reducing Food Waste,” points to specific areas where flexible packaging can contribute to solving the problem. It calls attention to waste from fruits and vegetables; they account for approximately 43% of all food loss in the U.S.
In particular, the second study looks at extending shelf life to make food usable longer. It compared pre-packaged fruits and vegetables with bulk products. Just one example involves green bell peppers where prepackaging produce can extend shelf life from 4 to 20 days. See the chart for details on a few examples of better shelf life.
How Consumers See It
The study also looks at consumer attitudes toward food waste, and says that consumers respond differently to key words and phrases. For example, the consideration of “how it is packaged” is a low-order issue. However, “how long food lasts for” receives a higher perception of importance.
FPA’s more recent Brand Value study probed consumer response to questions of “Would you pay more for packaging that is “resealable” or “single-serve,” options can extend shelf life and reduce waste. In that study, average consumers said they would pay 14% more for packaging that is “resealable;” 9% said they would pay more for “single serving” packages.
“Each of the studies shows that flexible packaging can be part of the solution to food waste,” FPA’s Donahue says.
For More Info
Get copies of the study “The Value of Flexible Packaging in Extending Shelf Life and Reducing Food Waste” from FPA. It is free to FPA members; non-members can purchase it. Go to www.flexpack.org and click on “Recent Publications.”