There are two extreme cases when dealing with sustainable packaging: under-packaging and over-packaging. In an over-packaging situation, alternatives should be considered to decrease the packaging intrinsic impacts. In an under-packaging situation, the packaging functionality should be improved to reduce food waste (and less associated environmental impacts). In order to prioritise possible alternatives, a quick evaluation of the balance between packaging impacts and food impacts can be performed.
Make a quick evaluation test to determine if we are in a situation of over or underpackaging.
Evaluate approximatively the quantity of food waste: if it is higher than 5 %, the situation is possibly underpackaging.
Consider the type of food versus the type of packaging: (i) (food) highly transformed food products, meat-based products, show quite high impacts, compared to drinks, fresh-cut vegetables, showing lower impacts ; (ii) (packaging) paper or plastic-based flexible packaging show generally lower impacts compared to rigid plastic packaging, or glass and metal-based packaging.
a) The association of a food product with high impact and packaging with low impact is an extreme situation of a food/packaging balance allowing the possibility to INCREASE packaging impact resulting in less food waste with a possible global positive environmental improvement.
b) Inversely, the association of a low impacting product with a high impacting packaging is an extreme situation of a food/packaging balance allowing the possibility to DECREASE packaging intrinsic impacts, but also the whole impact of food packaging combination, as long as the food waste does not or nearly increases.
Use quick tools to evaluate the packaging, food, and transport impact. Attribute to the packaging impact the fraction of transport impact corresponding to the packaging weight; attribute to the food impact the fraction of transport impact corresponding to the food weight. Calculate the % of packaging impact versus the whole impact of the food packaging combination. If this % is less than 5%, you might be in an under-packaging situation (a). If this % is higher than 15%, you might be in an over-packaging situation (b).
Use different environmental impacts and not a unique indicator to consolidate the value of the food/packaging balance.
2B Srl, 2021. General guidelines on environmental specification and LCA guided the selection of best markets. Deliverable 3.5 of the MyPack project, 2B Srl, July 2021.
Breedveld, L et.al, 2020. Under- or over-packaging: a key question in the food waste debate? Proceedings of the LCAFOOD conference, Berlin 13-10-2020.