WHILE many Australians jumped behind the "war on waste" bandwagon with fingers pointed at excessive plastic and cartons, an independent report on packaging has found it actually reduces food waste.
Commissioned by the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA), the research was undertaken by RMIT and Empauer and indicates fresh produce packaging can help mitigate the estimated $20 billion of food lost or wasted in Australia every year.
The research mapped the life-cycle of 10 fresh produce items both with and without packaging. They were:
- Tomatoes (snack pack)
- Mushrooms (cup and sliced)
- Leafy salad
- Cucumbers (small pack)
- Cos lettuce (twin pack)
- Banana (kids pack)
The results showed the benefits of packaging of fresh produce included product protection, extension of shelf life and the ability to communicate product information which assisted consumers.
AFPA chief executive officer, Michael Rogers, said the group recognised that consumers were concerned about the level and type of packaging used for fresh produce.
"What this research demonstrates is there are real practical reasons for using packaging for certain types of fresh produce," Mr Rogers said.
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"It's shocking to think that an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of food valued at $20 billion dollars is lost or wasted every year in Australia, while rates of obesity are rising due to poor diet and low intake of fresh fruit and vegetables."
The AFPA is made up of some of Australia's largest fresh produce growers and suppliers, representing 1000 plus growers through commercial arrangements and more than 15,000 direct employees through peak harvest.
The 72-page report said an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted in Australia every year.
"This waste is a occurring at a time of growing rates of obesity in our adult and child population due to poor dietary intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, leading to the development of preventative and chronic diseases amongst the population, including type 2 diabetes," the report said.
Mr Rogers said it was important consumers better understood why producers utilise particular packaging formats.
"A good example demonstrated by the research is the use of punnets to package berries. The environmental impact of the waste generated from damaged, unsellable fruit actually outweighs the impact of utilisng the punnet," Mr Rogers said.
However, the report highlighted the importance of working to reduce packaging where reasonably possible and the importance of identifying packaging that provide greater opportunities for recycling.
"AFPA members are focused on delivering the best quality fruit and vegetables to consumers to ensure all Australians have access to fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet and are conscious of meeting this goal in the most sustainable way possible," Mr Rogers said.
The research identified a number of key recommendations focused on further work, including:
- a better understanding of food waste that occurs in the home post retail purchase;
- education for consumers on the role of packaging and why it is used for certain types of fresh produce;
- a focus on a 'circular economy' approach to packaging, involving producers, retailers and government coming together to identify ways in which to reduce packaging waste and improve recycling and reuse;
- further work on clarifying the value of packaging in product safety, with an emphasis on 'ready to eat' fresh produce and.
- the extent to which packaging plays a role in maintaining and enhancing sensory aspects of fresh produce, such as look, taste and smell.
The full report can be downloaded from the AFPA website, here.