Why single-use packaging will only preserve Europe’s food waste problem

By Piotr Barczak, Waste Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau

It seems that every day a fresh, horrifying statistic emerges on the sheer volume of food being thrown away throughout Europe – rubbing salt into the wounds of the 840 million people across the globe struggling to stave off hunger.

The packaging industry often claims that packaging – including wrapping thrown away after being used only once – is essential to improving how the world uses resources such as food, as it protects the commodity wrapped within it. Astonishingly, they also claim that packaging minimises product waste, despite plastic packaging itself accounting for 80 per cent of global marine litter, and plastic looking set to outweigh the amount of fish in the sea by 2050.

To say that action must be taken to limit the amount of food being wasted across Europe is an understatement. Yet by championing packaging as a solution to wasting food and other resources, the European packaging industry could exacerbate a problem it is naively claiming to solve.

Less food was wasted before single-use packaging (packaging designed to be immediately thrown away after use) began to proliferate in shops and supermarkets, yet today, significant amounts of unopened edibles are being sent to landfill despite their extensive wrapping. This alone debunks the industry’s claim that the best way of preventing waste is through not placing restrictions on what food and other items are packaged in.

Cutting down on waste by producing more packaging is totally contradictory. Rather than stopping good food rotting in landfills or being incinerated, it encourages societal overconsumption by wrapping food up in often excessive layers of packaging designed to highlight branding rather than preserve contents – all of which still must be thrown away.

It also helps to engrain a ‘single-use’ culture in consumers’ minds, encouraging people to thoughtlessly throw away vast amounts of packaging rather than considering more sustainable alternatives, such as using reusable containers or buying products in bulk.

And alternatives to the packaging craze are gaining more and more momentum. Shops specialising in package-free products are on the rise across Europe, offering customers cheaper prices as packaging costs are deducted, and cutting down on waste by allowing customers to buy the exact amount of what they need.

It is crucial that the European Union...

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