The principal aim of the project is to reduce or eliminate plastic use in food packaging where this is advantageous in the sustainability perspective. This is to be achieved by acknowledging potential trade-offs between the negative environmental impacts of plastic packaging and the specific benefits it may bring, such as reductions in food waste compared to alternatives. Hence, reduction or elimination of plastic packaging is considered on a rational, objective scientific basis. The primary objective is to establish a decision-support tool for plastic packaging based on the relevant principles. Based on the nature of a product and the functional requirements of the packaging, the tool will establish where plastic packaging could be justifiable in the sustainability perspective, and feed into investigations of possible alternatives where it is not. The outcomes from the analyses will be documented, both individually and collectively, to establish a substantial body of knowledge on the (non-)justifiability of plastic packaging across the food sector.
Research challenges include the need for detailed mapping of the plastics value chains (particularly the waste management aspects) and sophisticated measurements, for example on the propagation of microplastics. Developing the decision-support infrastructure and identifying packaging alternatives depends on leading-edge research conducted by sector-leading experts within the consortium.
The project has enormous potential for enhancing sustainability of food packaging in practice, driving policy and strategic developments, shaping public discourse (in highlighting nuance in the issues) and broadening focus across the entire food value chain (e.g. via enhanced focus on food waste).