Last October I posted about excessive plastic food packaging. Today I am revisiting the topic based on a recent article in my daily newspaper, Die Presse. Citing a study conducted by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), they reported that less packaging does not always have a better climate balance.
The study – in English and highly informative – found that on average 3% of the climate impact of packaged food comes from the packaging. The environmental cost of the packaging must be balanced against the environmental cost of food loss due to spoilage to determine if the packaging has a positive or negative effect on the climate.
The climate impact of food waste is staggering. Approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are food related. One third of all food produced is lost and avoiding food waste can reduce our overall carbon footprint by up to 8%. These distressing figures – and others – can be found in the study (p. 5).
The calculation is straightforward. If the protective function of the packaging of a given product prevents more than 3% waste, the use of the packaging has paid off from a climate protection perspective. This type of calculation is a form of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), an analysis technique to evaluate environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life – from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, and use.
LCA analysis can lead to counterintuitive results. For example, when calculating the climate balance of cucumbers. Sometimes it is better to purchase shrink-wrapped cucumbers as opposed to non-shrink-wrapped ones.
Cucumbers are often shrink-wrapped to reduce transport damage and food loss. An Austrian study indicates that retail losses are 50% less for shrink-wrapped cucumbers which outweighs the plastic wrapping in the LCA. So, if a cucumber is imported and travels long distances, the shrink-wrap plastic covering is justified. If the cucumber is from the local farmers’ market, then it would not be.
I, however, am not totally convinced and suggest the following:
- Buy your cucumbers locally if possible – problem solved.
- Invest resources to grow more local, climate friendly, cucumbers even in cold climates. Frutura in Styria is achieving this with natural thermal water to produce organic vegetables year round.
- Develop technology to better protect imported cucumbers without using plastic.
Any other ideas how we can save cucumbers? Leave a comment.