In the lead-up to FoodTech Queensland, Food & Beverage Industry News speaks with key speakers from Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) and Close The Loop Group around how food and beverage businesses can minimise waste through packaging innovations.
In committing to halve the food waste that reaches landfill by 2030, the Australian government’s National Food Waste Strategy has sparked much conversation in the food and beverage industry around how to achieve this. According to the latest National Food Waste Baseline, 2.5 million tonnes of food waste was created in consumers’ homes, 2.3 million tonnes in primary production, and 1.8 million tonnes in the manufacturing sector.
One potential solution to be explored is packaging – specifically, how informed packaging designs can help food and beverage businesses and their end-consumers minimise waste. This 7-8 July, FoodTech Queensland will investigate this idea further as part of the newly curated two-day exclusive conference at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The first step on the path to minimising waste begins with education. The Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), long-standing industry partner to FoodTech Qld, is guiding this education through a variety of training courses, one-on-one customised workshops, corporate in-house training and even specialised degrees focused on packaging. One of these courses has a particular focus on the role packaging plays in minimising food waste.
“It’s really important to raise the profile of how to better design packaging at the start, to ultimately minimise food waste across the value chain and in the household,” AIP executive director Nerida Kelton said.
“We also have our PIDA Awards program, which recognises innovative save food packaging to help people better design their packaging and minimise food waste. We are a core participant in the Fight Food Waste CRC, and we are working on our own project which is developing save food packaging design guidelines for designers, technologists and engineers.”
Kelton views food waste as a vital element of consideration that is not spoken about enough within the industry, compared with packaging waste and sustainability.
“However, the environmental impacts of food waste are much higher than the conversation that’s being had in terms of packaging waste at the moment,” she said. “For us, it’s really important to help people understand that packaging can play a role in minimising food waste.”
Close The Loop Group is also active in educating both industry bodies and its clients on the importance of packaging and the role it plays in protecting food.
“I think people can underestimate the need for packaging, particularly when you consider that packaging plays a very important role in keeping food safe and preserving the product on the shelf,” Close The Loop Group CEO Joe Foster said. “Not only that, but the impact of that packaging on the rest of the world.”
Despite primary production and food manufacturing generating so much food waste in Australia, Foster believes we can achieve the federal government’s national goals to halve food waste by expanding this education.
“In terms of reducing food waste, education is key,” he said. “Labelling on packaging is also key, because there’s a lot of confusion from a consumer perspective on what it really means and when the product is truly expired.
“I think we also need to look at different ways of preserving food by using better packaging materials. There are packaging materials out there that are designed to preserve food longer, such as those that contain absorbers. Packaging materials like that will work hand-in-hand with consumers trying to preserve food for that little bit longer.”
Kelton agrees that by promoting collaboration and open communication between consumers, industries and governments, halving the amount of food waste being dumped in landfill is achievable. FoodTech Queensland is providing a platform to do just this at the conference and expo.
“The only way that we can achieve it is to collaborate across the entire value chain; we can’t do it in silos in different parts of the supply chain anymore,” Kelton said. “Associations like Stop Food Waste Australia will assist in driving this conversation as well, because we need to have the conversation with farmers, producers and households, and make them aware of the severity of the issue and what they can do. I think we are on the right path.”
How to reduce waste
Another area of concern is the waste that the packaging itself can generate, not just the food it contains. For food and beverage businesses that opt to incorporate a circular packaging solution that won’t contribute to this waste, Foster said it’s important to consider the packaging hierarchy.
“In moving towards a more sustainable product, you always have to consider the packaging hierarchy,” he said. “This includes important factors that we cannot jeopardise such as food safety, machine performance, shelf life of the product, food safety barriers, oxygen and moisture barriers, and commercial innovation.
“Close The Loop are very much involved in promoting a true circular economy, to ensure that when we design packaging we’re trying to make it more circular, reusable or recyclable.”
There are many Australian companies that have implemented more informed packaging designs to reduce waste across the board, such as Plantic Technologies, who are actively embedding save food packaging design principles for its customers. Or Junee Lamb, who recently won Bronze in the WorldStar Packaging Awards for its conscious packaging design that minimises the risk of lamb bones puncturing the packaging.
But to facilitate a circular economy in the food and beverage industry, Kelton believes there needs to be a balanced and holistic outlook on reducing environmental impacts.
“If you’re looking to make a strong commitment to lower your environmental impacts, then you need to look across everything that you do,” Kelton said. “We believe that food and beverage manufacturers need to understand the science behind the decisions that they make, making sure that they are, in fact, better decisions.”
Making better decisions and considering smart packaging ideas that will work for each individual business is crucial. For some, this may mean returning to their product and assessing what is really needed in its packaging.
“A lot of packaging that’s being used may have been in place for many, many years because it’s been inherited,” Foster said. “A company might find their product has changed over the past 10 years – so what sort of shelf life does it now have? What protection does it need in terms of temperature? Then build those specifications so the packaging can reflect what will suit the actual product.”
Ultimately, consumers are driving the conversation around sustainable packaging across the globe. This consumer demand displays potential commercial value for brands who incorporate it into their processes.
“It is important for brands to understand their collective responsibility in lowering their carbon footprints,” Kelton said. “And consumers will support that, because they see that they’re making the effort by not putting single use or problematic materials on the market and actively trying to replace those materials with something that is capable of being collected, sorted, recovered and recycled.”
By taking the consumer along in the brand’s journey to deliver more sustainable packaging that reduces waste, there is a potential marketing benefit as well.
“There are too many brands that are not communicating that openly and they need to be honest in saying, ‘This is what we’re doing or plan to achieve,’ and then consumers feel like they’re part of that journey with you,” Kelton said.
In terms of cost, Foster admits that implementing sustainable packaging currently doesn’t come cheap. However, there is the potential for food and beverage manufacturers to see better cost effectiveness as such packaging designs are scaled up in the future.
“At the moment, we’re leveraging all the newest technology from the last five years,” Foster said. “It’s also because we’re trying to compete with international commodity-type packaging materials, and we’re making bespoke, sustainable materials that we don’t have to scale at the moment. But once we do start to scale, we will begin to see more commercial benefits in the packaging.”
Kelton and Foster will both be at FoodTech Queensland on 7-8 July at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, joining fellow industry peers as part of the FoodTech Qld first, two-day conference program. They’ll be discussing innovative packaging designs and how brands have actively engaged in implementing them, and how Australia is striving to meet the 2030 targets around food waste through packaging.
Along with expert suppliers showcasing their food and beverage solutions at the expo and the opportunity to network with leading professionals among the backdrop of the scenic Gold Coast, the winners of the PIDA Awards for 2022 will also be announced at FoodTech Qld on Friday 8 July. The awards will recognise companies and individuals who are making a difference through packaging innovation and design.
To hear from key representatives in the industry and discover packaging solutions to reduce waste, register for FoodTech Queensland at www.foodtechqld.com.au/register.