Producing, distributing, storing, and cooking food uses substantial amounts of fuel and water and results in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Food production alone contributes around 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions; animal-based foods produce roughly twice the emissions of plant-based ones. Food manufacturing businesses are increasingly aware that changes need to be made to adopt more sustainable practices.

Sustainable agriculture practices

Sustainable primary production practices include the following strategies:

– Adopting agroforestry practices (a land management approach that combines trees with crops and livestock farming, increasing biodiversity and capturing carbon dioxide)

– Crop rotation (less fertilizer is required and less pollution is emitted)

– Embracing crop diversity (improves soil quality and reduces emissions)

– Reducing or eliminating tillage (tillage can destroy soil structure, speed up decomposition and loss of organic matter, increase the risk of erosion and destroy the habitat of useful organisms)

– Applying integrated pest management (to minimise the impact on the environment)

Sustainable food sourcing

Consumers are keen to know if food ingredients are local (‘farm to fork’, organic, fair trade, or produced using sustainable farming practices. Employing these practices increases your brand perception as well as helping the environment.

Rethinking distribution

It is estimated that one-third of all the food produced globally is discarded – a shocking statistic. This happens due to crops being discarded if they are not of sufficient quality, fruit and vegetables of suboptimal quality being thrown away before they even reach the shelves, and food whose quality is impacted during transportation. Food manufacturing businesses can adopt strategies such as reducing food miles (minimising distribution distance) which reduces both potential food waste and fuel emissions and reusing food waste (either themselves or partnering with another company).

Environmentally friendly packaging

Today’s eco-conscious consumers have driven a move away from single-use plastic packaging in the food industry to sustainable packaging options. Many consumers expect food manufacturing businesses to minimise their carbon footprint by utilising sustainable packaging options such as plant-based packaging (e.g. bamboo, cotton and hemp), wood pulp, corrugated cardboard, or dissolvable packaging such as corn starch filler peanuts. It’s important to make sure there are no hidden environmental impacts, for example, switching to cardboard packaging only helps if it’s not contributing to deforestation (plus creation of cardboard actually uses a huge amount of water – it’s not as green as you might think). Edible packaging would mean you can eat your food and the packet or film too, although there may be concerns about hygiene; it could work well with a coffee cup that you drink out of then eat the coffee cup afterwards. Many food manufacturing businesses have switched from plastic shrinkwrap to greener options such as sugarcane polyolefin shrinkwrap which is both food-standard safe and biodegradable.

Shrinkwrap machinery for food products

Shrinkwrap is used extensively in the food industry due to its durability, protection and visibility or instance around cucumbers, punnets of fruit or holding multiple tinned items together. Shrinkwrap machinery can substantially reduce output volume and reduce packaging waste. Fortunately, shrinkwrap machines can work with both plastic shrinkwrap and the new sustainable shrink films.

Refillable stores

Many ‘zero waste’ shops are now offering customers the option to bring reusable jars and bags back to be refilled from large disposable containers with all sorts of items from coffee beans and raisins to organic vegetables and lentils. This removes the need for disposable packaging, you just need to weigh your container while it’s empty and after it’s filled as payment is by product weight, meaning you can also buy just the right amount for your needs.

Encouraging consumers to reduce food waste and eat sustainably

Households generally throw away a third of all food purchased. Many people don’t realise that discarded waste contributes to climate change as recycling waste lorries generate fuel emissions and the waste often ends up in landfill where it rots, producing methane gas which also pollutes the air quality resulting in hazards to human health. Landfill sites physically destroy wildlife habitats and result in toxins entering water supplies and the food chain. Increased awareness of post-consumer waste is important in trying to reduce the amount of food waste.

Consumers can be encouraged to make small changes to their habits to reduce food waste such as:

– Meal planning and mindful shopping

– Optimising storage temperature

– Utilising leftovers (home cooking, takeaways and restaurant meals)

Consumers can also be encouraged to adopt a more sustainable diet by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet or increasing the proportion of meat-free days, only purchasing seasonal produce or making a conscious effort to buy food that has been sourced and produced sustainably.