WRAP’s food waste report on fruit & veg lacks scope, argues British Plastics Federation
28 Feb 2022 --- The British Plastics Federation (BPF) is reaffirming the valuable role of plastic in reducing food spoilage and associated carbon emissions in response to a WRAP UK study, which suggested packaging doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce and can actually increase food waste.
WRAP tested five commonly wasted items (apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes) stored in the original packaging and loose and at different temperatures. The charity found that selling the five products loose without packaging and removing Best Before dates could result in a combined saving of around 100,000 metric tons of household food waste, more than 10,300 metric tons of plastic and 130,000 metric tons of CO2e.
BPF backs the UK Plastic Pact’s overall objectives and stresses the plastics industry only supports using plastic when it provides a benefit. However, as the study is solely focused on a small number of fresh food items and their lifespan within the home, BPF argues its conclusions are limited.
“In reality, many fresh products travel hundreds if not thousands of miles on their journey from farm to fork, so a form of packaging is required to protect and preserve them – and plastic packaging still excels at this due to being lightweight, strong and providing a moisture barrier (extending a product’s overall lifespan), in addition to other unique benefits,” BPF said in a statement.
Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at WRAP, responded to these concerns and shared insights on how further evidence on food waste can be accumulated in an exclusive video interview with PackagingInsights.
Supply chain considerations
WRAP’s summary report recommends selling fresh produce loose unless it can be shown that plastic packaging reduces overall food waste. BPF suggests that calculations should account for the product’s entire journey rather than simply within the home.
“While we acknowledge that food waste is most significant in the home, it still occurs in-store and during a product’s journey along the wider supply chain. In addition to preserving food, plastic packaging also provides an extra degree of hygiene and a way to trace its origin,” it argues.
Global losses and waste for root crops, fruit and vegetables are between 40% to 50% (FAO, 2020). Fruits and vegetables plus roots and tubers are recorded as having the highest wastage rates of any food.
Meanwhile, fresh produce represents one of the highest loss rates in primary production at the farm stage. The FAO also reports that in developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels, while in industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.
The BPF was one of the founding members of the UK Plastic Pact and supports its aim to keep plastic out of the natural environment. “Although we disagree with elements of this study, we remain committed to working with WRAP to ensure the best possible outcome for the environment but urge people to remember that, despite what the report suggests, plastic packaging still plays a key role in reducing food waste and carbon emissions,” it reiterates.
Beyond the five
BPF also claims the study is limited in that only a small number of fresh food items and their lifespan within the home were considered. Edward Kosior, UK recycling expert and Nextek founder, agrees the research’s scope is too restricted while accepting that packaging should not be used to cluster items together.
“It is difficult to draw conclusions from the report as the likes of salads and cut fruits and vegetables are not mentioned, which most definitely do benefit from protective packaging,” Kosior tells PackagingInsights.
“While apples, bananas, potatoes and onions don’t need the protection of plastic packaging, the humble cucumber has been proven to reduce food loss and waste thanks to a thin plastic sleeve.”
In related news, France recently imposed a plastic packaging ban on 30 different fruits and vegetables in a move that divided opinion. Zero Waste France argued that the ban’s exemptions “greatly lessen the law’s ambition” while others pointed to potential food waste increases.
By Joshua Poole
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