Home » Climate Action » Catalysing change: why transforming global food systems plays a critical role in stopping the climate crisis

Charles Brand

Executive Vice President, Processing Solutions & Equipment, Tetra Pak

Food systems are now firmly on the sustainability agenda, and it is easy to see why.

Today, 2.4 billion people lack consistent access to sufficient food1, while food systems generate a third of global greenhouse gas emissions2. Perhaps most shockingly, a third of all food produced is wasted.3 With the global population set to increase to 10 billion people by 20504, it is clear that current systems are unsustainable, and will only become more so if left unchecked.

The food industry requires a transformative shift in sourcing, processing and packaging, to shape more sustainable and resilient global food systems. At Tetra Pak, we regard it as our responsibility to employ the resources at our disposal and we have identified four pathways to achieve tangible progress.

A more sustainable dairy industry

Dairy is responsible for vital nutrition, countless livelihoods – and a significant 2.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.5 A more sustainable dairy industry6 must be established, reducing its environmental footprint while helping smallholder farmers to thrive.

Our role in supplying equipment to some of the largest players in the industry, coupled with our technical knowledge, means that we can drive efficiencies in dairy production. Two key examples are extending the reach of our Dairy Hub programme and collaborating with customers and industry partners as part of the Dairy Processing Task Force, initiated by Tetra Pak in 2023.

The search for new food

Navigating the dual challenge of feeding a growing population while minimising food systems’ environmental footprint requires us to reimagine the ‘art of the possible’.

Collaboration is of the utmost importance here. We are joining forces with a global network of stakeholders from the public, private and academic sectors to pioneer alternative protein sources, with more resource-efficient supply chains.6 Together, we plan to scale up new food technologies like biomass and precision fermentation, helping to make alternative proteins viable at industrial scale. We know that the appetite is there, with our latest Index revealing that consumers are willing to try microbial protein (54%), cultivated meat (54%) and insect protein (41%).

Navigating the dual challenge of feeding a growing population while minimising food systems’ environmental footprint requires us to reimagine the ‘art of the possible’.

Reducing food loss and waste

A third of food produced is never consumed8, making reducing food loss and waste a vital piece of the sustainability puzzle. We are tackling this by accelerating progress in two important areas.

Innovations in food processing technologies are helping us to minimise production losses, transforming low value side-streams into valuable products, while driving reductions in water and energy use. Alongside this, our aseptic packaging solutions continue to safeguard perishable liquid foods from spoilage, preserving them for up to 12 months and reducing waste.

The role of sustainable packaging

Paper-based beverage cartons play a vital role in providing access to safe nutrition on a global scale, but they must do so with minimal environmental impact. These cartons score better on environmental performance than other packaging options (such as PET bottles and glass9) and are recyclable where collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure is in place, at scale. To improve this further, we are investing in expanding recycling capacity and developing packages that are made with a simplified material structure and increased renewable content.

Collaborating to drive change

It is only through collaboration at every level that we can achieve the required pace of change. We are committed to playing our part in shaping more efficient, sustainable and resilient food systems, and it is our hope that COP28 marks a new level of dedication from stakeholders around the world to do the same.

[1] Goal 2: Zero Hunger – United Nations Sustainable Development
[2] Food systems are responsible for 34% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. (2021), Crippa, M. et al. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00225-9
[3] WWF 2022https://www.saveonethird.org
[4] https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/population
[5] FAO – Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector https://www.fao.org/3/CA2929EN/ca2929en.pdf
[6] Definition: Sustainable dairy is defined as a dairy industry that emits less greenhouse emissions by introducing technologies, equipment and best practices in production and processing to safeguard nutrition security and sustain a billion livelihoods for tomorrow, while helping secure a future for us all. https://globaldairyplatform.com/sustainability
[7] “Alternative proteins can play a leading role in the global protein transition by significantly reducing food system emissions while freeing up considerable amounts of land for additional climate mitigation strategies, food security, and protection of biodiversity.” https://gfi.org/resource/a-global-protein-transition-is-necessary-to-keep-warming-below-1-5c/
[8] WWF 2022 https://www.saveonethird.org
[9] 83 g CO2 equivalents per litre (eq/l) compared to 430 g CO2 eq/l for single-use glass bottles, 156 CO2 eq/l for PET bottles and 100 g CO2 eq/l for reusable glass bottles. https://www.beveragecarton.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ACE-Circular_Analytics_ACE_report.pdf

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