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The Intersection of Foodservice Packaging and Food Recovery

At FPI, we try to stay on top of the latest trends that may be impacting the foodservice packaging industry. Sometimes, it’s easy to see the nexus between these trends and foodservice packaging; other times, it’s not as easy.

I am certainly familiar with the announcement made this fall by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut food waste in half by 2030. "Let’s feed people, not landfills," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. This certainly makes sense, given that food is the single largest component (21 percent) of the municipal solid waste stream that ends up in landfills, according to the EPA. [BTW, compare that to foodservice packaging, which is less than 2 percent!]

So how is this relevant to foodservice packaging? I knew that "food recovery" encompassed a number of different strategies, but I was thinking most about composting. It wasn’t until I attended the Food Recovery Summit last month that I started thinking more holistically about the opportunities for the foodservice packaging industry.

As I see it, we have an opportunity to engage in three of the strategies in EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy:

Source Reduction: There have been numerous studies that show how packaging can help reduce food waste. This is more at the retail level, I know, but it is worth mentioning. AMERIPEN put out a great resource on this topic, and more details may be found here for those of you that also sell in the retail space. When it comes to the foodservice industry, how does packaging help with source reduction? I would point to the humble doggy bag (and I use the term "bag" loosely). Think about how much food is wasted when foodservice operators provide large portions that many of us simply cannot eat in a single seating. Olive Garden recognized this with a promotion a while back where you received one smaller portion to eat in the restaurant, and another smaller portion packaged to go. Perhaps foodservice packaging sales people should be marketing their take out packaging to restaurants as a way to not only increase their off premise sales, but also reduce wasted food. We know the foodservice industry is concerned about this topic, given the National Restaurant Association’s partnership in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FYI, I’m a "strategic advisor" to the FWRA).

Feed Hungry People: At the Food Recovery Summit, there were several presentations that talked about how to get much needed food in the right hands. It’s sad that this is even an issue, but the silver lining was that in all these presentations, there were pictures of foodservice packaging being used to distribute this food. Yes, our packaging helps to make this possible! So, what can you do? There are great organizations with which you can partner, both at the national and local levels. Need help? Check out Feeding America’s national system of food banks to find outlets near your facilities. Or find out if your local college campus is part of the Food Recovery Network, which mobilizes students to help feed the hungry. Or, learn about the Food Donation Connection, created specifically for surplus food within the foodservice industry. In all instance, these organizations need foodservice packaging. Can you help?

Composting: I found it interesting that so much of the focus at the Summit was on the “more preferred” options like reduction and donation. In many circles, however, there is tremendous attention on composting, and particularly expanding the access to commercial composting facilities. Know why that’s important? We’re seeing more and more development of and interest in compostable packaging, and we’d like to see it composted after it’s used. I recently learned that to reach the EPA/USDA’s 50 percent reduction goal, 26.5 million tons would need to be diverted from landfills. Today, 2.7 million tons are processed through composters and anaerobic digestion facilities. Wow, talk about a HUGE gap. Here’s another statistic for you: of all the composters in the U.S., less than 10 percent of them accept food scraps (and even less accept compostable packaging). There’s a lot of work to be done to expand that infrastructure, but the EPA/USDA goal may give the industry the push it needs.

So, be on the lookout for more discussions about food recovery. It’s an opportunity for our industry that you won’t want to waste.

Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 12/1/2015 11:02:28 AM