We are at a crossroads for balancing sustainable business, caring for the environment, and the ability to adequately feed the world’s population. This is something that Sealed Air, our colleagues in the food industry, and the world at large have been grappling with for some time. The challenge is not new. The challenge now is to embrace a new way of thinking for sustainability.
Those who have done business with me know I hate waste in all forms. In fact, it is a passion for how I run business because I believe eliminating waste, whether it is wasted materials or wasted time, can be achieved by making waste prevention a priority.
Consider these three pressing issues facing our food supply chain that we need to address – for reasons both altruistic and economic:
We are producing more than enough food to feed the planet, yet hundreds of millions of people starve.
We have made significant advances in technology and distribution, but food contamination is still a large societal problem with fatal consequences regardless of wealth.
We are more conscious of the impact our actions have on the environment, yet we throw away billions of tons of food a year that could feed hungry people.
We can’t overcome these challenges with old thinking. We need urgent action with collaborative thinking and innovative solutions, because increased population and consumption will require at least 50 percent more food by 2030. That food must increasingly be distributed safely from all over the world.
Along every step in the food supply chain there is the risk for contamination, damage and waste. Urgent action is required. Millions of people become ill every year and many die from unsafe food. Food borne and waterborne diarrheal diseases kill about 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of them children, and increasing urbanization is expected to increase foodborne illnesses. Urgent action is required because at least 40 percent of the food we produce is never consumed, which means the water, energy and resources used to produce this food are wasted. In addition, food waste that decomposes in landfills is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Sealed Air is actively working to address these challenges, with sustainability integrated into how we do business. We are addressing food waste by following three paths: collaboration, innovation and education.
We look beyond a single product or service to consider the value chain, where the solution is part of a broader lifecycle involving sourcing, distribution, use and even disposal. By thinking this way, we improve access to a more secure food supply chain – one that is safer and more nutritious; more efficient and less wasteful. For example, we have seen how efficient production methods for foods such as beef, pork and chicken, coupled with our packaging, cleaning and hygiene solutions, can reduce waste across global supply chains while meeting demands for proteins in urban areas.
Innovationplays a vital role in preventing food from going to waste. Packaging technologies that extend shelf life, reduce damage or help consumers to portion or reseal foods, have all been shown to reduce food spoilage during distribution, allowing customers to grow their businesses and, especially, to reduce the amount of food that may be wasted by the consumer. Use of packaging technologies such as modified atmosphere packaging, for produce and baked goods, leads to significant extension in the time that foods can remain fresh.
Education is essential. From production to consumption, understanding the factors that lead to food contamination and spoilage can dramatically reduce illness and prevent food from spoiling before it can be consumed. For example, better labeling to communicate the best way to store various food products or how long foods remain safe to eat, can reduce waste in our households. Another way to educate communities on food waste is at the local school level. We successfully mentored a student team from the Alfreton Grange Arts College in the UK during a “Fresher For Longer” contest and learning project. Our assigned student team won the project contest with their understanding of the role packaging plays in reducing and eliminating food waste, and their innovative ideas for the next wave of combating food waste.
When we apply this approach on a global scale, we are not only assuring our long term future by keeping our local communities thriving, we are encouraging and strengthening developing regions of the world. We are finding that appropriate balance of the nexus between food, energy and the use of our natural resources. This is what sustainability is all about. This is how we think, and how we act each and every day at Sealed Air.
As you can see, we are taking steps both big and small to help people live healthier and eat better. What are your ideas for reducing and eliminating food waste in your home and community?
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.