Study: Plastic packaging fails to prevent food waste crisis


The study shows how annual per-capita use of plastic packaging has grown simultaneously with levels of food waste since the 1950s – now at 30kg and 173kg respectively.

The review of available evidence published by Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe, on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance, also reveals that:

  • Big retailers are driving food and plastic packaging waste in Europe through practices such as food grading standards, and packaging food in multipacks and small format packs. One study showed that chopping green beans to fit plastic packaging resulted in 30-40% of the beans being wasted.
  • 37% of all food sold in the EU is wrapped in plastic – the most widely used packaging material.
  • The cost of food waste in the EU is estimated at €143 billion each year, equivalent to the annual operational budget of the EU.

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The results are in: wrapping, bottling and packing food in plastic doesn’t systemically prevent food waste, and sometimes even causes it. It’s a red herring that’s causing terrible pollution of our land, sea and air. EU decision-makers need to listen to the growing public appetite to quit plastics, help Europe lead in adopting strict rules to limit throwaway plastics, and shift to localised food systems without disposable packaging.”

The study also highlights how the environmental impacts of plastics can be systematically underestimated when making policies which impact food packaging – including some in the new measures being developed by the European Commission to tackle plastic pollution. With the current use of the “Life Cycle Assessment” (LCA) methodology the Commission is leaving the door open to policies that fail to tackle plastic pollution.

Ariadna Rodrigo, Sustainable Products Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe said “The packaging industry and the European Commission are not practicing sound decision making when it comes to food packaging. Their methodology, which often ignore the impacts of plastic waste, result in to conclusions that favour complex food packs which are impossible to reuse or recycle. The result is the promotion of plastic packaging designed for landfill and incineration.


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