Plastic packaging increases food waste, study finds

A study has confirmed that single-use plastic packaging actually increases food waste, debunking the idea that plastics are needed to extend shelf life and reduce the amount of food thrown away.

An 18-month study conducted by the sustainability charity To wrap upwho examined the sale of bananas, broccoli and cucumbers, found that plastic packaging increased food waste, as people were often forced to buy more than they needed.

According to Marcus Governor, To wrap up‘s, the research found that plastic wrap “doesn’t necessarily extend the shelf life of fresh, uncut produce,” adding, “It may actually increase food waste in this case.”

“We found that storing food in the fridge at less than five degrees gave days, weeks and, in the case of apples, months of better quality shelf life,” Gover said. “We found that for most items, the plastic packaging they were sold in made little or no difference to their shelf life.

“In cases where consumers had no choice but to buy more than they needed in prepackaged packages, this could actually increase food waste,” he added.

How much food is wasted in the world each year?

A third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, amounting to around 1.3 billion tonnes per year, with domestic households being the main culprits, followed by restaurants and retail. With around 17% of the world’s food production wasted, it is imperative that the problem be addressed urgently to develop an ecologically sound and sustainable food system. The climate crisis is forcing a rethink of how we grow, process and distribute food, and waste is a key component.

In Britain alone, nearly half a million tonnes of fresh vegetables and salads, and a quarter of a million tonnes of fresh fruit are wasted each year because they are overripe or mouldy. The total value of this wasted food in Britain is thought to exceed £2.1billion a year.

Research found that if apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumbers and potatoes were sold individually and best before dates were removed, it could save over 10,300 tonnes of plastic and around 100,000 tonnes of food.

The findings support the call for supermarkets to ditch plastic packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables.

How can I reduce food waste at home?

Watch the Why waste? series with Massimo Bottura & Co, an exclusive series for Gastronomy lovers, for tips and tricks on how to use leftover food and turn waste into taste.

Bryce K. Locke