I hope that your readers have not been misled by the Bishop of Chichester’s throwaway comment, in his column ‘Just A Thought’ on March 15, 2018, that ‘Plastic wrapping is closely linked to marketing and the massive production of wasted food.’
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about one third of global food production (around 30-40 per cent), is lost or wasted annually.
But how much of this can be blamed, as Bishop Martin does, on plastic packaging?
In developed and industrialised countries, around 60 per cent of food loss and waste occurs at the post-harvest and processing levels.
The FAO’s experts attribute this to three main causes:
(1) overproduction by farmers to ensure delivery of agreed quantities;
(2) the rejection of fresh food that does not meet supermarkets’ unnecessarily high standards for appearance; and
(3) the disposal of otherwise edible food during processing and packaging, whether due to trimming to size, damage, or other processing errors.
The remaining 40 per cent of loss and waste takes place at the retail and consumer levels, with three main causes identified by the FAO: (1) food in retail stores being discarded after reaching its ‘sell by’ date; (2) promotions that encourage consumers to buy more than they need (Buy One, Get One Free) coupled with consumers’ failure to plan their food purchases properly; and (3) oversized portions in retail stores and restaurants.
Not one of these is attributable to plastic packaging.
Indeed, the FAO has identified the lack of, or limited, packaging facilities in developing countries as contributing to the food loss that they experience.
Food loss and waste are running at unacceptable and unsustainably high levels throughout the world.
Likewise, plastics pollution is damaging the environment and, particularly through its impact on sea-life, appears to be embedded in the food chain.
However, we are unlikely to solve either issue if we allow muddle-headed thinking to persuade us that plastic packaging causes food loss and waste.