Food (waste) for thought

Published 4 October 2017 by Ola Svending
Food waste is a major problem in the world. It’s an environmental issue, as well as social and economic. It’s about conscious consumption. It’s also about solidarity in making sure food is not taken for granted and that communities around the world have what they need for a healthy and growing population.
In Western countries, consumers and retailers alike contribute to waste. At home, consumers simply buy too much food and don’t use it all. At the point of purchase, grocers and other retailers have a tendency to keep an oversupply in order to look good on the shelves. In both cases, major amounts of food are likely to end up in the waste bin. In developing countries, the problem is somewhat different. Waste can occur in the distribution chain from field to fork where the food can spoil and thus needs to be thrown away.

While we’re wasting food on the one end, we’re also straining the planet on the other. Think about all the resources and water required for food production at the very start of the chain. There are also considerable CO2 emissions from the food sector. That’s not to say we don’t need food, however we want to find the right balance in consumption and production.

Suitable and sustainable packaging solutions can help. Packaging serves to ensure that food comes in a healthy and safe way, and when designed to align with consumer behavior, it can help to cut waste. Responding to global trends, this is just the kind of thing that Stora Enso is working with.

One trend affecting consumer behavior, for example, is the growing number of single person households and smaller family units in major markets. There are more young people and more retirees living alone. In this light, packaging can be designed for the quantity actually needed for a meal. No more and no less.

Additionally, with more consumers on the move in a busy modern world, there is far more eating ‘on-the-go’. Packaging can be specially designed to meet this kind of consumption, while also helping to reduce waste. Packaging of food-on-the-go should help consumers eat their meal safely and hygienically. Once the meal is eaten, the packaging should be easy to collect for recycling.

Keeping food fresh in the distribution chain is another challenge where packaging helps. The transport and storage for chilled food products and unchilled food products require different kinds of packaging solutions to avoid spoilage. With both, we need to look at the total life cycle and optimal material combinations.

In today’s world, we have many new tools at our advantage, intelligent packaging among them. In the supply chain, digital tags in the packaging can indicate if temperatures in transport or storage need to be adjusted to prevent spoilage. At home, consumers often throw food because they ‘think’ it’s bad – a signal in the packaging could indicate if ‘in fact’ it’s good or bad.

When it comes to packaging, of course, there’s also the important issue of materials in terms of what’s best for consumers and the environment. Glass, plastic or board? In the case of board, we can be assured of responsible sourcing, lower CO2 emissions and systems for collection and recycling. For Stora Enso’s part, responsible sourcing is managed via our supplier Code of Conduct. Our fibres can also be forest certified which helps consumers understand that they are responsibly sourced. The low carbon footprint of wood-based products is mainly due to the uptake of CO2 in the trees. The tree is both a climate smart material as well as a bio-fuel for energy. Generally, paper products are recycled at a significantly higher level than plastics. However, not all paper packaging grades reach the same high recycling level as e.g. corrugated board.

Food for thought? For all of us – consumers, producers and retailers – it’s about responsibility and taking some cooperative and innovative steps to reduce waste. Packaging can help in many small ways to solve a big problem. Let’s not waste our future.


Ola Svending, blog author

Ola Svending

Director Sustainability, Consumer Board Division, Stora Enso

Ola is focused on product aspects of sustainability including responsible sourcing, forest certification, environmental footprints, circular bio-economy, collection and recycling of used packaging etc. to ensure sustainable business success.

What we do

Stora Enso works with packaging on many levels from consumer insight to design and supply chain optimisation through innovation centres and materials research. The new Beihai Mill has been designed specifically for smaller, on-the-go packs. Stora Enso additionally has a special focus on intelligent packaging solutions as well as MFC for advantages in source reduction, strength enhancement, lightweighting and renewable barrier materials.