I am sure we all know the irritating feeling of having food right in front of us and not being able to eat it, and then having to throw it away.
But, let me be more specific—you are famished and holding a nearly empty tub of Nutella. Your spoon is just enough to reach the bottom, and the container is too small for your big hands to really have any autonomy over it. The more you scrape, the harder it becomes to fill your spoon. You enjoy any little bit you can manage to get on the tip of your silverware, but you know you will soon have nothing. And then it happens. In the midst of the adrenaline and hopefulness you had of having a fulfilling snack after a long day of work, you accept that you have lost the battle to the Nutella container and can’t get any more onto your spoon. As you lick the messy fingers of one hand, the other hand throws away a jar cumulatively containing at least a whole delicious spoonful of hazelnut spread into the garbage. A tragedy to your taste buds, but there is nothing else you could have done.
If containers like those of Nutella jars had been designed differently, maybe you would not have been left in sorrow wondering if you should have tried harder. Not only can it be a tough play on our emotions, inefficient food packaging is a considerable source of food waste. Nutella is not the only brand guilty of forcing us to waste food—peanut butter, condiments like ketchup and mayonnaise bottles, salsa jars, glass bottles of thick sauces like teriyaki, and even yogurt cups all leave behind dirty containers that often end up either down the sink or in a landfill.
If you were to add up all the ketchup you’ve thrown away during you whole like from “empty” bottles, how many new bottles could you fill? One? Five? Food waste in landfills is a significant producer of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than the infamous carbon dioxide.
Not all packaging favours food waste like the examples above. Yogurt tubes, freezies, and bagged milk allow you to perfectly squeeze out all the contents, popsicles can be sucked until only a compostable wooden stick is left, and butter wrappers perfectly peel off the block when it is cold enough. Trying to decide between a tasty treat and being conscientious of the environment can often require making sacrifices; without our continuous awareness of climate change, however, we might not be around for too long to be able to make these decisions.
The latest food waste reduction strategy to come out of Montreal is a grocery store that aims to operate on a “zero-waste” policy. Located in the Rosemont area, Méga Vrac sells food in bulk and does not offer any products that are packaged. Instead, the store asks that customers bring their own containers to fill with purchases.
Food packaging is a major contributor to waste, as food it often sold in packages that are too large for people to consume. However, with stores such as Méga Vrac, customers can choose the amount they need while avoiding excess packaging that food is usually found in.
Previously, the store was not zero-waste but co-owner, Ahlem Belkheir said she was inspired to transform it because her customers were already bringing in their own containers. She saw an opportunity for change as she realized the demand for zero-waste existed. Belkheir also is focussing on preventing waste at its source by bringing their own barrels and containers to their suppliers.
Belkheir told The Canadian Grocer that she is not wary of competing zero-waste stores, because she believes everyone – including other grocery stores – should be working towards reducing waste as well. “Our lives should become zero waste.”
A new tactile, bioreactive expiry date allows consumers to feel when their food is no longer fresh. Invented by London-based designer Solveiga Pakstaite, “Bump Mark” feels smooth when a package of food is fresh and will turn rough and bumpy when it has expired. This process is due to a gelatin substance inside the package that decays at a similar rate to food. As it has similar properties to perishable food like meat, the gelatin will be affected if food is not stored properly, or exposed to warm temperatures during transportation, making it an accurate reflection of the freshness of food inside the package.
The printed expiry dates we see on food today can be unclear to consumers and can contribute significantly to household food waste. Consumers have no way of knowing if food has been stored incorrectly, or if the food has gone bad while in the package. The bioreactive nature of Bump Mark offers a solution to the confusion.
“The label simply copies what the food in the package is doing, so the expiry information is going to be far more accurate than a printed date.” Pakstaite said in an interview with The Guardian.
When she started out, Pakstaite wanted to create a tactile that could be used by the blind, so that they could know when food had expired. However, knowing that large companies would not likely make a sweeping change for a small part of the population, Pakstaite went on to market the Bump Mark as a tool to reduce food waste as well as empower the blind. Her work has made headlines around the world and has earned her the James Dyson Award, a charity run by the James Dyson Foundation that supports innovations in technology, engineering and design.
The Bump Mark can be altered depending on the food by altering its concentration of gelatin.The more gelatin in the package, the slower it decays. It can be applied to many products but it may be most useful for animals products like meat, dairy and seafood.
When it comes to food shopping, it is often difficult to purchase the foods we want while avoiding the excess packaging. A few supermarkets have taken the approach of making the customer bring the packaging, and selling everything packaging free (an approach that used to be the norm). This is appealing to environmentalists, but also bargain hunters who will pay less without the plastic wrap.
In France, ‘Day by Day’ is a small chain selling 450 unpackaged products that are mostly dry goods. In Berlin, Original Unverpackt is also selling food without the bags. Of course if you don’t have a store that’s specifically committed to this, it’s still possible to cut back on packaging by bringing your own bags and shopping at places with less packaging, such as farmers markets or bulk food stores. This is relatively simple, but requires some changes to our habits that can help us avoid unnecessary waste. Like the tagline for the Strictly Bulk in Toronto, says: “because you don’t eat packaging.”