FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Packaging offers hope for global food loss and waste problem

Convenient portion sizes, uniformity in “use by” and “best before” dates, and new packaging technologies that prolong shelf life are just some of the ways in which food packaging is helping reduce food losses in high-income countries. But what about low- and medium-income countries?

At the 7th Global Packaged Summit opening here today, FAO agro-industry officer and food loss and waste expert Robert van Otterdijk is raising that very question – and proposing some promising solutions.

“Good-quality packaging materials that we take for granted – cans, bottles, Tetrapaks, and the like – are just not locally available in lower-income countries,” Van Otterdijk said. “In low-income countries, particularly in the small- and medium enterprise sector of agro-industry, food packaging is still at a very basic level of development.”

Not only are good-quality packaging materials unavailable, but there is a lack of equipment for filling the containers with food, Van Otterdijk said. Packaging materials would have to be imported, requiring investment beyond the means of most small companies, and making the final food products too expensive and uncompetitive with the products of larger manufacturers or foreign food companies.

“This situation is a big obstacle to value chain development and income generation in rural areas, where the agricultural raw materials are abundantly available,” said van Otterdijk. “Fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fish – these are the perishable foodstuffs that require processing and packaging to avoid food loss.”

“Fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fish – these are the perishable foodstuffs that require processing and packaging to avoid food loss.”

Robert van Otterdijk
FAO food loss and waste expert

However, research from FAO has shown that from an economic standpoint there is high potential for the packaging industry itself to invest in developing countries.

“Considering the growing production and processing of food in developing countries,” Van Otterdijk said, “and the correlated need for packaging materials and equipment, there must be a strong economic incentive for the packaging industry to invest in local manufacturing.”

Through its SAVE FOOD initiative, FAO has already succeeded in capturing the attention of the packaging industry, bringing it into a broad global partnership involving food producers, processors, retailers, consumers and civil society.

One third of all food produced for human consumption is either wasted or lost, according to FAO. This amount of food would be enough to meet global food needs, and implies important environmental consequences.

Food loss and waste is the subject of a special target under the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals. Target 12.3 is to reduce by half by the year 2030 the level of global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains including post-harvest losses.

At the Global Packaged Summit, FAO’s Van Otterdijk will also moderate a series of panel discussions on food packing innovation topics.

25 June 2018, Amsterdam, Netherlands