The growth of plastic food packaging is failing to reduce the rising food waste issue – and may even be making it worse – according to fresh research.
The study by Zero Waste Europe and Friends of the Earth Europe, titled Unwrapped, shows annual per-capita use of plastic packaging across Europe has grown with levels of food waste since the 1950s. It is now at 30kg and 173kg respectively.
Between 2004 and 2014, food waste doubled across the EU to around 30 million tonnes per year. Plastic packaging waste increased by 50 per cent over the same period, reaching 15 million tonnes. Data suggests around 40 per cent of plastic packaging waste comes from food packaging.
The research also showed that large retailers were driving food and plastic packaging waste through food grading standards, as well as packaging food in multipacks and smaller format packs.
One such example of wastage was chopping green beans to fit plastic packaging, which revealed 30 to 40 per cent of the beans were being thrown away. Overall, 37 per cent of all food sold in the EU is wrapped in plastic – the most widely used packaging material.
Incredibly, the cost of food waste across the EU is €143 billion each year, equivalent to the annual operational budget of the EU.
Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "The results are in: wrapping, bottling and packing food in plastic doesn't systemically prevent food waste, and sometimes even causes it.
“It's a red herring that's causing terrible pollution of our land, sea and air. EU decision-makers need to listen to the growing public appetite to quit plastics, help Europe lead in adopting strict rules to limit throwaway plastics, and shift to localised food systems without disposable packaging."
Ariadna Rodrigo, sustainable products campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, said "The packaging industry and the European Commission are not practicing sound decision making when it comes to food packaging. The result is the promotion of plastic packaging designed for landfill and incineration."