The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet. So why hasn’t world hunger been eliminated? A big reason is that a third of all food is lost or wasted. Food loss is mainly caused by inefficient production practices and food being grown but not properly preserved. Food waste, on the other hand, is largely driven by consumers and retailers because of short shelf life and unsustainable consumption practices.
Reducing and preventing food loss and waste is not easy – but it is increasingly important with the environmental challenges we are facing and the global population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 1 We need to look at entire food systems and work together to tackle every step of the value chain by supporting solutions that encourage sustainable production, processing, packaging, distribution and consumption of food
Setting food loss and waste reduction targets
A good place to start is to set concrete food loss and waste reduction targets, either specific or ones that go across the full value chain. The European Union, for example, wants to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2050. At Tetra Pak, we set targets to reduce water and energy use for every solution development we undertake, and it actually helps us achieve more than we thought was possible. Our OneStep technology, for example, combines multiple ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk steps into one and has helped one of China’s largest milk producers cut water use by 30% to 50% in five years and reduce energy consumption by almost 40%.
Improving factories and plants
With the right food-processing solution, factories and plants can use the whole product when manufacturing products, and thereby upcycle production waste. When producing soy milk and tofu, a part of the puréed soybeans is usually discarded. Together with customers, we have developed a whole-bean processing solution to capture this unwanted material and turn it into high-value ingredients. First, soybeans are ground to a soy base. After this, fibrous residue (okara) is separated from the soy base. This not only eliminates waste, the reuse of okara also means that a creamier end product can be achieved.
Improving storage and packaging
Much food is lost at farm level when crops become infested or during transportation. Simple measures such as transporting packaged food in crates instead of bags can help reduce the amount of food that is bruised or ruined, which means it is less likely to be discarded and wasted. At the other end of the value chain, food loss and waste can be reduced by prolonging the shelf life of products with processing solutions like pasteurization and UHT treatment combined with innovative packaging such as aseptic containers.
More than three-quarters of consumers (77%) now consider food waste a problem, but much waste occurs at the hands of consumers. 2 By informing and inspiring consumers about what they can do regarding product quality and shelf life, more food can be saved. Consumer perception of products is also important. In some countries, for example, pasteurized milk is seen as more fresh than UHT-treated milk. However, pasteurization and UHT are simply different heat treatments that have a different influence on product taste. UHT milk has a longer shelf life and a lower carbon footprint because it does not require a cold chain and will help retailers and consumers lower food waste.
There is enough food for the whole world, but it is not always distributed effectively. We are trying to change that by being part of initiatives such as school feeding programs all around the world. By working together across food systems, we can make sure that everyone everywhere gets access to safe and nutritional food.
As a world leader in food processing and packaging, we are committed to playing our part in transforming the world’s food systems, together with customers, governments, partners and nongovernmental organizations. Only through effective coordination, a common vision and an agreed plan can food loss and waste be properly reduced and prevented at the national and local levels while working to increase sustainability and providing food for a growing population.
To learn more about how we can feed the world while protecting the planet, visit Tetra Pak’s Go Nature. Go Carton initiative.
1."United Nations World Population Prospects 2019"
2.Tetra Pak Index 2020, "COVID-19 and the Food Safety – Environment Dilemma," Page 21