The United Nations Environmental Program just released a new report: Supermarket food packaging and its alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments. A meta-analysis of 95 studies from the last 10 years, the report is made to inform policy-makers of recommendations to reduce the environmental impacts of food packaging, including its impact on reducing food waste, and inputs along its entire value chain.
∙ For foods associated with high environmental impacts for their production (e.g. meat) packaging design should prioritize minimization of food waste.
∙ For foods with lower environmental burdens in their production, packaging should be minimized and/ or eliminated wherever feasible, i.e. wherever the impacts of potential increased food losses and/or logistics operations are not higher than the impacts of packaging avoided.
∙ Wherever the food type allows it, food should be sold unpackaged or in reusable packaging, as this is almost always environmentally preferred to food in single-use packaging.
∙ Life cycle assessments that cover the full value chain and include product losses are needed in order to determine whether minimizing, avoiding or using returnable or recyclable packaging leads to lowest environmental impacts overall. Current legislative environments tend to favor single use packaging systems. Creating a level playing field is therefore essential for reusable packaging systems. This can be done through:
∙ Economic measures that help remove market barriers for reusable packaging systems, such as taxes on packaging waste.
∙ Standards for food packaging that address overpackaging and require better packaging design.
∙ Legislation, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), that makes companies responsible for the end-of-life of the products they put on the market. Such legislation typically includes targets for recovery, recycling and/or recycled content. EPR legislation needs to include concrete measures to stimulate reuse, e.g. reuse targets, as this is lacking in most countries that have implemented EPR.
The report is dense with information, and also includes recommendations for both reusable/returnable packaging and single-use packaging.
Full report: Link