While perusing Facebook recently, I came upon a picture posted by Captain Paul Watson of citrus fruits wrapped in plastic (I linked the post below). It reminded me of edible polymer films, which are a form of active packaging and which can help extend the life of the fruit, but according to the caption and comments of the image, viewers were incensed at the extra packaging. Why do these fruits, which are already protected by skin and rinds, covered in extra plastic when up to 14 million tons of plastic (Palmer) end up in oceans every year?
Those of us who follow environmental groups get a lot of information and exposure to the amount of plastic waste that floats around in oceans, poisoning animals and generally degrading marine ecosystems. This is commendable and necessary, as plastic waste is indeed a serious problem. But we don’t seem to get as much exposure to the amount of food waste western countries produce. Some people may not even see food waste as a serious issue (Williams, Wikström, Otterbring, Löfgren, & Gustafsson, 2012), or at least not one that should take priority over others.
When considering the vast amount of nutrients and resources it requires to grow food, however, it’s clear that food waste is actually more harmful than plastic waste. I outlined the impact of food waste in my first post.
The impact of plastic food packaging waste decreases markedly once the environmental impact of the food it protects is factored into the equation (Wikström, Williams, Verghese, & Clune, 2014). In other words, though plastic packaging waste does have a negative environmental impact, that impact can be justified if it succeeds in reducing food waste (Verghese, Lewis, Lockrey, & Williams, 2015; Wikström & Williams, 2010). In fact, it can be almost eliminated if the packaging can be recycled, or is made from biodegradable, non-petroleum materials that can be processed into compost. Of course, that level of recycling and efficient waste management is not always achieved, so plastic waste ends up littering oceans. The management of plastic garbage must be significantly improved if the relationship between fresh produce and plastic wrap is to be fruitful.
Captain Paul Watson’s plastic wrap posts on Facebook
Shopping in Plastic Land
The Ecological Insanity of a Plastic World
Palmer, Brian. "The Amount of Plastic We Dump into the Ocean Annually Could Stretch Halfway to Mars. (Really.)." NRDC. National Resources Defense Council, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.
Verghese, Karli, Helen Lewis, Simon Lockrey, and Helén Williams. "Packaging's Role in Minimizing Food Loss and Waste Across the Supply Chain." Packaging Technology and Science Packag. Technol. Sci.28.7 (2015): 603-20. Web.
Wikström, Fredrik, and Helén Williams. "Potential Environmental Gains from Reducing Food Losses through Development of New Packaging - a Life-cycle Model." Packaging Technology and Science Packag. Technol. Sci.23.7 (2010): 403-11. Wiley Online Library. Web.
Wikström, Fredrik, Helén Williams, Karli Verghese, and Stephen Clune. "The Influence of Packaging Attributes on Consumer Behaviour in Food-packaging Life Cycle Assessment Studies - a Neglected Topic." Journal of Cleaner Production 73 (2014): 100-08. ScienceDirect. Web.
Williams, Helén, Fredrik Wikström, Tobias Otterbring, Martin Löfgren, and Anders Gustafsson. "Reasons for Household Food Waste with Special Attention to Packaging." Journal of Cleaner Production 24 (2012): 141-48. ScienceDirect. Web.