Wasted Food and Packaging Comprise 45% of U.S. Landfills

The global flexible packaging market is expected to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 5% or more over the next five years. This is great news for chemical companies investing heavily in innovation and manufacturing to support demand, but this is not necessarily good news for the environment.

What’s driving the demand?

Technavio market research analysts opine that an emerging middle-class population, greater demand for processed food, and desire for greater convenience are driving the need for food packaging. With an expected global market to reach almost $175 billion, there is plenty of incentive for chemical companies to increase research, development, and capital investment.

What is the economic impact?

“The chemical industry is one of the United States’ largest manufacturing industries, serving both a sizable domestic market and an expanding global market. It is also one of the top exporting sectors of U.S. manufacturing. Accounting for almost 15 percent of global chemical shipments, the United States is a world leader in chemical production and exports.

The industry’s more than 10,000 firms produce more than 70,000 products. In 2016, the U.S. chemical industry had final sales exceeding $800 billion and directly employed more than 811,000 workers, with additional indirect employment by industry suppliers of more than 2.7 million. With investments of $91 billion in research and development in 2016 and a record of strong enforcement of intellectual property rights, the chemical industry accounts for a significant portion of patents granted in the United States.”

Though the chemical industry undoubtedly provides jobs and positively contributes to the economy, losses to the economy related to plastic packaging are as high as $120 billion per year. These losses are attributed to the extremely low recovery value of plastic packaging. As little as 5% of packaging’s original value is retained based on current discarding and recycling practices.

What is the environmental impact?

As of a few years ago, 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging were produced worldwide. Almost 50% of that packaging went to landfills while more than 30% was reported as land and sea pollution. The remaining percentage was either incinerated or recycled. Current estimates of plastic in the ocean exceed 150 million metric tons. One report claims there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by the year 2050.

What can be done to reduce food and packaging waste?

To address the biggest source of food and packaging waste, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated the Food Recovery Challenge to help food service establishments. The accompanying toolkit the EPA published provides several ways to reduce food and packaging waste (e.g. donating unsold edibles to food banks, making croutons out of stale bread, feeding byproducts to animals, reusing food containers, and recycling). While the toolkit provides valuable guidelines, the recommendations are not monitored or enforced through regulation.

What can you personally do to reduce food and packaging waste?

Since the use of flexible packaging can extend the shelf life of food, there is a valid argument that packaging is necessary to reduce food waste. However, addressing the problem of food waste only creates a new problem of packaging waste. To address both problems, grow your own! If you have access to sunlight, and most people do, you can grow your own food. There are hundreds of blogs and websites that provide valuable expertise on how to grow food in all environments. If Matt Damon can grow potatoes on Mars, you can grow tomatoes by your kitchen window! (The Martian movie trailer)

2017 Harvest Pictures
No packaging required for homegrown food!

Seriously, if you are too intimidated by the thought of nurturing plants that will nurture you, you can also buy responsibly by choosing food that is not individually wrapped. A farmer’s market, produce truck/stand, and grocery stores with “non-convenience” food offerings are better alternatives. If your diet includes meat, support the local butcher shop and bring your own reusable containers. This will save you time and the risk of contamination because containers can go right into the refrigerator or freezer, and no nasty packaging dripping with “meat juice” needs to be handled and discarded.

What if you started today?

If the average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily, reducing that number by only one pound per day results in a yearly reduction of 365 pounds. With an aggressive goal of reducing the amount by half, the yearly reduction for one person is 803 pounds! If only ten people take this advice to reduce daily trash by half, the yearly waste reduction is more than four tons.

Initiate your own personal waste reduction challenge today and comment on this blog to encourage others to do the same!

©Room2GrowGarden.com, November 29, 2017

References

Accessed November 29, 2017. <http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171110005515/en/Demand-Convenience-Food-Boost-Flexible-Packaging-Market&gt;

Accessed November 29, 2017. <https://www.selectusa.gov/chemical-industry-united-states&gt;

Accessed November 26, 2017. <https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/reducing_wasted_food_pkg_tool.pdf&gt;

Accessed November 26, 2017. <https://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i41/cost-plastic-packaging.html&gt;

Accessed November 29, 2017. <https://www.salon.com/2016/07/15/america_is_a_wasteland_the_u_s_produces_a_shocking_amount_of_garbage_partner/&gt;

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