How Advancements in Packaging Can Reduce Food Waste

By 2050 it has been estimated that the population on Earth will grow by 33% to total 9.6 billion people [1]. More people on this planet means a higher demand for food. Currently, one-third of food made in the world is wasted or lost every year, making up the largest material in landfills [2]. This amount of food waste coupled with the ever-increasing food demand raises considerable concern. However, advancements in packaging can help curb the amount of food waste and, thereby, alleviate the strain of food demand on a growing population [3].

Packaging plays a vital role in drastically reducing food waste and protecting food throughout the supply chain.

Packaging plays a vital role in drastically reducing food waste and protecting food throughout the supply chain.
Ana Romero, ©2019, Packaging Science, Clemson University

Packaging a product plays a major role throughout the entire supply chain, maintaining the integrity, quality, and safety of the product from the time it is created until it is in the hands of the consumer. However, many consumers carry negative connotations towards products’ packaging. Approximately 57% of consumers would think more favorably of a store if they used packages that would maintain the freshness of food for a longer period of time, and 43% of consumers believe food products with packaging designed to keep food fresh for longer are environmentally friendly [4]. Therefore, packages have the opportunity to create a positive effect not only on the products themselves but also the consumers.

Life Cycle Analysis

In the life cycle of food products, packaging is necessary in reducing waste. Without packaging, food becomes damaged, loses significant quality, and safety issues can arise. While many view packaging as a major contribution to food waste, it is essential in providing food to consumers and is needed to keep food products safe. Furthermore, less than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions during the food production process is directly caused by the packaging itself, and packaging can have as much as an 18 % decrease in the waste of some foods, such as coffee [3]. At its best, packaging is reducing waste and will only become a better aid in food waste reduction as future innovations and developments unfold.

While 61 % of consumers believe that packaging causes food to “go off” or go bad, the reality is that major issues for any product usually happen during distribution. Environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, compression and vibration, occur during distribution and can cause food to become unsafe to eat and damaged, which is unacceptable to consumers [5]. Protective packaging is used to prevent damaged food during distribution, helping to limit waste. Flexible packaging can be used as a barrier to limit the amount of air and moisture to penetrate the packaging and enter food. This increase of packaging does not have a large contribution on waste and will reduce the total food waste. Therefore, increased packaging plays its part by protecting the product efficiently and safely [6].

Reducing Waste During Distribution

Distribution environments play a key role in packaging to reduce food waste. The environment that each package must undergo before reaching the store shelf is different. Food can be packaged directly in a field or processed in a plant and then packaged for the consumer. The design of the packaging is crucial in keeping food safe and fresh for the consumer while also reducing food waste.

Redesigning current packaging can help reduce food waste. There are three ways that packaging design can help in this reduction: preservation, portion control, and reuse.

[7]. Preserving food to last longer, smaller portion sizes for individual servings, and reusable packaging can all help in the fight to reduce food waste. There are a couple of new innovative packaging trends that could help reduce food waste.

Smart & Intelligent Packaging

Smart or intelligent packaging is a hot topic in discussions of food waste reduction. Intelligent packaging allows communication from the product to the consumer about the quality of the. RFID (radio frequency identification), TTI (time-temperature indicators), and integrity indicators are the three main families of indicators that are being used in intelligent packaging. TTI sensors that are placed within the packaging can allow the consumer to know if a product experienced elevated temperatures and for a certain duration during the distribution environment and is no longer safe for consumption [8]. This type of communication can be vital in helping the reduction in food waste, creating accountability for food producers and distributers.

Protective Packaging

Protective packaging is designed to protect the product through distribution to allow safe delivery to the consumer. Protective packaging not only allows for safe delivery by not damaging the product during the distribution environment but allows the preservation of food and reusability of the packaging. Factory sealed containers can preserve the natural flavor, texture, and nutrients by preventing air from contacting the product during the distribution environment prior to reaching the consumer [9].


Packaging is often perceived as being wasteful; however, it plays a vital role in drastically reducing food waste and protecting food throughout the supply chain. Various types of packaging help keep many food products fresh longer as well as protect products during distribution. Advancements in the field of packaging will only aid in better, safer, and less wasteful products.


1. Livestock and the environment. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2018, from
2. Quantifying the Value of Packaging as a Strategy to Prevent Food Waste in America. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2018, from
3. Minimizing food waste. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2018, from food-waste
4. Newswire, M. -. (n.d.). Growing Grocery Shopper Concern Over Food Waste According to Sealed Air 2014 Food Waste Survey. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from
5. Gram-Hanssen, I. (n.d.). Https:// 4_Irmelin Gram-Hanssen.pdf. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
6. Reducing Food Waste: How Packaging Can Help. (2015, March 19). Retrieved
December 14, 2018.
7. Verghese, K., Lewis, H., Lockrey, S., & Williams, H. (2013, June). The role of packaging in minimizing food waste in the supply chain of the future. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from ngwaste.pdf
8. Journal of Cleaner Production. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2018, from
9. Plastic Packaging and the War on Food Waste. (2018, October 29). Retrieved December 14, 2018 from storage/plastic-packaging-and-the-war-on-food-waste/

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