The Environmental Impact of Food Packaging Waste Can be Minimized

The impact on our environment from food packaging waste can be minimized by prudently selecting materials and following established regulatory guidelines, yet the primary purpose must continue to be maintaining safe, wholesome and quality food, according to the Institute of Food Technologists and its latest scientific review, Food Packaging - Roles, Materials, and Environmental Issues.

Issued this month, this IFT Scientific Status Summary explains the role of packaging in the food supply chain, the types of materials utilized, and their impact on the environment. It also provides an overview of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, waste management options, disposal methods, and legislation of packaging disposal, and more.

Authored by IFT Fellow and food packaging expert Kenneth Marsh, Ph.D., the report also describes the current cradle-to-cradle concept to recover sufficient materials and energy in a way that imposes zero impact on future generations. Some data of interest to many audiences, as noted in the scientific summary, include:

  • Food is the only product class typically consumed three times per day by virtually every person.
  • Only approximately 31 percent of all municipal solid waste is from packaging materials—a number that’s remained constant since the 1990s despite an increase in the total amount of MSW.
  • Non-packaging sources (e.g., newsprint, telephone books, office communications) account for more than twice as much MSW as packaging materials.
  • Food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste by volume, and food packaging is approximately 50 percent (by weight) of total packaging sales.

Advances is food processing and packaging play a primary role in keeping the United States food supply one of the safest in the world, according to the analysis. It is the role of food packaging technology to balance food protection with other issues like energy and material costs, heightened social and environmental consciousness, and strict regulations on pollutants and the disposal of municipal solid waste.

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