Is plastic packaging of food essential for a sustainable and therefore circular food system?
This on-line event from the University of Cambridge brought together experts on recycling, sustainable consumption, public health, materials, the plastics industry, and food retail for a wide-ranging discussion of plastic in the food chain and whether its usefulness outweighs its dangers.
The event was skilfully chaired by Dr Claire Barlow who began and ended by conducting a poll to ask the audience ‘Is plastic for food packaging always bad?’ At the beginning of the event 78% thought it wasn’t compared with 87% by the end of the webinar.
We learnt that packaging is essential to prevent food waste, itself a cause of more carbon emissions than plastic packaging, but that shorter food chains (i.e. reducing food miles) would mean less packaging would be required.
Identifying the level of risk that chemicals in plastic packaging for food poses to human health is difficult but it’s very important that any unnecessary exposures to toxic pollutants are minimised and producers are transparent about what might be in our food chain.
The concluding message was that plastic can be a good thing, if it is used appropriately and recycled after use, to preserve food for longer and therefore prevent food waste, making the food system more sustainable and contributing to its circularity.
Dr Claire Barlow, Senior Lecturer, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge.
Bryony Rothwell, RECAP Partnership Manager.
Dr Michel Cassart, Sustainable Use Director, Plastics Europe.
Dr Stephanie Wright, Lecturer at the School of Public Health, Imperial College, London.
Claire Hughes, Director of Product & Innovation, Sainsbury’s.
Dr Lili Jia, Senior Research Associate Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge.
The event was organised by Cambridge Global Food Security and Energy IRCs.