Packaging solutions for climate change

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Greenhouse gas emissions, Greenhouse gas

Minimising food packaging, boosting processing efficiency and avoiding food waste could make powerful contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the US food industry, according to a new report.

The study, Identifying our Climate Foodprint​, from the US Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, identifies how the food chain can become more climate-friendly.

Although industrial farming systems, relying on massive resource inputs for crops and livestock, are by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, the packaging and processing sectors make big contributions too, say the authors Jim Kleinschmit, Jennifer Edwards and Heather Schoonover.

Food processing and packaging have a lower impact ​[than agriculture] but remain energy-intensive and produce large amounts of waste​.”

Energy demands

Food processing contributes about 10 per cent to the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions – mainly from energy demands arising from the packaging and processing sectors, says the report.

Processing can be on the order of 10-20 per cent of a food product’s life cycle GHG ​[green house gas] impact, especially for prepackaging meals or other prepared foods. Most of this impact comes from the heat and electricity requirements of processing equipmen​t,” write the report’s authors.

Plastics and aluminum are identified as the most energy-intensive packaging to produce, while paper and glass are less so – although the heavy weight of glass adds to its transport energy burden.

In order to reduce emissions from the packaging sector, the report recommends using refillable packaging to eliminate consumer waste and the need for primary materials production. Companies should also consider bioplastic packaging options which result in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Processing facilities

To improve energy efficiency at food processing facilities, the report recommends: Upgrading to energy efficient lighting and equipment, using efficient and appropriately sized motors and using waste heat and energy to heat or cool buildings.

Energy used for consumption, including refrigeration and cooking, accounts for up to 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions while food decomposing in land fill is responsible for up to eight per cent of the food supply chain’s gas emissions.

To mitigate the effects of refrigeration, the report recommends consuming locally produced fruit and vegetables in season or using renewable energy resources.

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables using solar energy is the most efficient way to preserve food but hot air drying using fossil fuel can require more energy than canning or freezing​,” says the report.

Many farmers, food companies and consumers are already implementing climate- friendly practices​,” said Jim Kleinschmit. “Now we need smarter public policy to make the larger systemic changes we need.​”

President Obama has pledged to support a climate change plan and governments from around the world will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December to try to reach a global agreement on the subject.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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