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US: 44% of fruit and veg go to waste, but better packaging could help

The National Resources Defense Council recently reported that much, if not most, food waste is fresh food purchased for home use. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American families throw away up to 44% of fruits and vegetables they purchase.

While there are many reasons for household food waste in the developed world, one factor accounts for about two-thirds of the problem: spoilage from food not being used on time.

When it comes to alleviating spoilage and other forms of food waste, packaging is so critical that Helén Williams and Fredrik Wikström, life-cycle assessment researchers at Karlstad University in Sweden, state that, “Packaging that is altered in order to reduce food losses can lessen the total environmental impact and lead to large environmental gains, even if it is necessary to increase the environmental impact from the packaging itself.” (Source: Journal of Cleaner Production, 2011)

These findings aren't alone however, according to the Freakonomics article “How About Them Wrapped Apples,” “Given the high cost of wasting food, the question of [packaging] design might be more important than the question of necessity."

Waste is an inevitable outcome of production. As consumers, we should certainly see food packaging as a form of waste and seek increasingly responsible packaging solutions. At the same time, though, we must do so without resorting to pat calls to ‘reduce packaging.’ Doing so, it seems, could do more harm than good.”

The packaging industry has a chance to seize this opportunity to take the lead in reducing at-home food waste. However, also of critical importance is the fact that consumers’ behavioirs regarding food waste will only change if they perceive a real benefit to doing so, and if the cost of change as measured in time and/or money is minimal.

Thus, innovations that enhance convenience by facilitating food storage, retrieval, preparation and use of leftovers should be at the top of all packaging designers’ to-do lists.

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