For the week of Jan. 7, 2019

‘It’s up to me’

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Food packaging today is really about marketing and making money – lots of it. Food handlers and marketers care about competing for shelf space and selling their product. They’re in the business of selling their packaged products to consumers. Can’t blame them. It’s the American way.

Environmental consequences, consumer satisfaction and selling a product at a fair and equitable price doesn’t rank at the top of the priority list for food marketers.

It’s estimated the global food packaging market is expected to reach $411.3 billion by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc.  Due to changing lifestyles that may alter eating habits, an increase in demand for convenience foods will propel their growth in the global market.

You know processed, tasteless food you can pop out of your freezer, microwave and eat in a jiffy.          

The industry exhibits rapid growth for single-serve and portable food packs. Increasing purchasing power of buyers owing to rising per capita income is expected to boost growth. Furthermore, increasing urban population and attraction toward ready-to-eat meals by consumers is expected to escalate industry growth.

As the amount of packaging increases, so does waste and environmental costs, not to mention the added costs to consumers. The plastic bottle containing your favorite soda or the aluminum can that holds your favorite brew costs more than the soda or beer.

On average a beer can or bottle may cost three four, five or maybe six times the cost of the beverage. The same is true for sodas. It depends on the company and the product.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for packaging that provides a protective coating between the food product we wish to eat and our environment, thus keeping the contents safe and ensuring hygiene.

Some packaging prolongs the food life while other packaging is necessary for safe and efficient transportation. And lastly, God bless their souls, other packaging is used to provide consumers with information and instructions for which there are some legal requirements. You know, like the small, rectangular preservative pack inside a bag of beef jerky with the instructions, “Do not eat.”

However, all this convenience, marketing and profit comes with a price – additional waste for this nation’s landfills and the rest of the globe. In this country and other wealthy nations, a decrease in the size of households has resulted in more people purchasing smaller portions of food and that means more packaging.

A higher living standard around the globe has also resulted in the desire to acquire “exotic” foods from other lands and eat them. Transportation of such food and the ability to keep it fresh also costs more in packaging.

So how much waste has this galloping packaging industry produced?

It’s difficult finding information like this in our country. Seems like our folks in the food, beverage and packaging companies would rather talk about their proposed plans to eliminate waste in the future, never mind the past.

Still, the packaging industry may be making some headway. According to figures by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food, beverage and packaging companies intend to eliminate an additional 2.5 billion pounds of packaging waste in the United States during the next couple years. These companies already have avoided creating 1.5 billion pounds of packaging waste since 2005, the trade group says.

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin – a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

To achieve a change toward more sustainable packaging, it's not just the packaging that requires alterations but also our lifestyles and habits of consumption.

Support companies that use packaging most efficiently. Avoid buying disposable items, such as non-refillable razors, alkaline batteries, etc. Recycle. Buy in bulk. Reuse shopping bags and buy only recycled products.

Change comes with personal responsibility and the ability to look in the mirror and say, “It’s up to me.”

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.