Plastic packaging failing to prevent food waste crisis, new study finds

A rise in plastic food packaging is failing to reduce Europe's growing food waste problem, and in some cases may even be fueling it, according to new research.

The study - Unwrapped: how throwaway plastic is failing to solve Europe's food waste problem (and what we need to do instead) - shows how annual per-capita use of plastic packaging has grown simultaneously with levels of food waste since the 1950s – now at 30kg and 173kg respectively.

The study shows how, between 2004 and 2014, household food waste in the EU doubled to an estimated 30 million tonnes per year. Plastic packaging waste increased by 50% over the same period, reaching over 15 million tonnes, although part of this may be attributable to new countries joining the EU. The best-available data suggests around 40% of plastic packaging waste comes from food packaging.

The review of available evidence published by Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe, on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance, also reveals that:

  • Big retailers are driving food and plastic packaging waste in Europe through practices such as food grading standards, and packaging food in multipacks and small format packs.
  • Chopping green beans to fit plastic packaging has been found to result in 30-40% of the beans being wasted.
  • 37% of all food sold in the EU is wrapped in plastic – the most widely used packaging material.
  • The cost of food waste in the EU is estimated at €143 billion each year, equivalent to the annual operational budget of the EU.



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