Skip to main content
Home » World Food Day » Why a greener food system supports a healthy planet

Alex Henriksen

Managing Director, Tetra Pak North Europe

Awareness of the climate crisis has vastly increased in recent years, but how well do we understand the impact of our global food system on phenomena like biodiversity loss, deforestation and drought?  

The National Food Strategy, an independent review published earlier this year, identified the global food system as the second-biggest contributor to climate change. It accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; food loss and waste constitute a whopping 8% of GHG emissions alone.

Packaging can be part of the solution, keeping food safe, nutritious and fresh for longer – but there is a catch. Packaging itself can have a negative environmental impact, producing waste, expanding landfills and increasing GHG emissions.

Rethinking how we use packaging

Turning the food system around requires rethinking how we create and use packaging and processing solutions. We see three key areas where incremental changes would help to decarbonise the food system: food waste; the supply chain, and water usage.

Beyond the farm gate, the biggest contributors to food waste are households, amounting to 70% of all waste. Sustainable packaging options with a long shelf life can help to address this problem, giving consumers access to food packages that retain the longevity of food while reducing carbon emissions.

Addressing this need for sustainable food packaging requires innovation pathways driven by renewability and recyclability. These are key to accelerating the shift from high carbon, fossil-based materials to low carbon, renewable ones.

Already today, the high proportion of renewable materials in Tetra Pak cartons, made of on average 70% paperboard, helps our products to achieve a lower carbon footprint than many other alternatives, such as glass, plastic or metal packages. But our ambition is to go even further and create the world’s most sustainable food package – one that is made entirely from renewable or recycled materials, is fully recyclable and carbon neutral.

Beyond the farm gate,
the biggest contributors to
food waste are households,
amounting to 70% of all waste.

Commitment to protecting natural environments

These materials must be sourced and processed responsibly if we are to minimise environmental as well as human and societal risk. At Tetra Pak, our participation in The Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™)1, Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) and Bonsucro schemes ensures our resourcing meets all the criteria for protecting biodiversity and natural environments in a traceable, transparent way.

However, decarbonising the food and packaging supply chain isn’t just about the packaging materials – other routines like transport, retail and waste disposal carry carbon costs too.

Like many companies, we are committed to reaching net zero GHG emissions in our operations by 2030 and in our value chain by 2050. A key step towards this is lowering energy-related emissions. Innovations in clean and efficient energy – such as adopting electric vehicles for transporting products, and sourcing 100% renewable energy across operations – can help the whole food supply chain to reduce its carbon footprint.

Additionally, innovations in food processing and filling equipment can reduce water usage at the same time as GHG emissions. This is critical for those industries in high-risk water areas, where wastewater is becoming an increasingly pressing concern.

Supporting food manufacturers

The packaging industry can support food manufacturers to tackle these issues – but doing so relies on constant innovation. In May this year, we launched the Tetra Pak® E3 Speed Hyper filling machine and UHT 2.0 heating portfolio, which together cut water and steam consumption for dairy manufacturers by 70%. Solutions like this are key to addressing environmental concerns while supporting food producers to feed a growing population.

The clock is now ticking: by 2050, demand for food will be 56% greater than it was in 2010. Urgent action is required on all sides to address the need for more food at a lesser cost to our planet. Finding solutions faster can be done through better collaboration, which is why we must collectively step-up investment and innovation to turn our food system into one that protects food, people and planet.

[1] The FSC license code for Tetra Pak is FSC™ C014047 

Next article