Around one-third of all the food produced globally each year is lost, discarded or wasted. This amounts to 1.3-billion tonnes of food waste and a vast amount of money that goes to waste on an annual basis.
Food packaging is one solution that has been in use for decades now, to protect and prolong food. However, plastic and foil packaging is also adding a large amount of non-biodegradable litter to the environment.
A better alternative lies in sustainable and biodegradable food packaging. These can protect foods from damage and spoiling, as well as the environment as they disintegrate once disposed of. Sustainable food packaging can reduce food losses, boost the green economy and minimise the impact of waste on the planet.
African packaging industry leaders meet
Industry leaders and experts in the food packaging sector met to discuss ways to scale up packaging solutions. Several sub-Saharan African countries were represented at the meeting, which was implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and ITC Foods Limited.
One of the major problems facing the industry is the high cost of packaging equipment and materials, especially for biodegradable products which are still a relatively new concept. The machinery that is needed to produce sustainable food packaging is expensive to buy and maintain.
These factors raise the price along the entire value chain for sustainable food packaging, which makes it difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enter the market. In many countries in Africa, SMEs make up the bulk of food products and packaging, which means that new (sustainable) packaging solutions are vital.
“Improving packaging systems will contribute to strengthening the entire food supply chain, improve the competitiveness of these enterprises and benefit all food chain actors and consumers,” says Zambian FAO representative George Okech.
Industry leaders proposed several other solutions such as shared service centres, government-assisted training for small businesses, better access to quality printing services and better access to food packaging-related market information.
Taking the food packaging industry forwards
The future of the industry looks a lot more green. The impacts of the packaging materials on the environment are a major concern for many African countries. This means that new materials will be developed and used to ensure that the majority of food packaging is biodegradable.
Consumers in South Africa are becoming increasingly aware of the plastic pollution that stems from food items. In particular, single-use non-recyclable plastics are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“African enterprises must lead in green packaging for Africa to keep its natural environment whilst bolstering opportunities for its people”, says ITC Foods deputy executive director Dorothy Tembo.
As investors begin to develop more recyclable and biodegradable packaging manufacturing factories, the costs of sustainable packaging will drop. This means that the food packaging industry will continue to grow in Africa, saving food waste and reducing pollution in the environment.
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