Metal Matters in the Fight Against Food Waste

A man reaching for a food can in a grocery store
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

In this blog post, we look at the advantages that metal packaging can deliver in the fight against food waste globally.

The latest industry studies estimate that as much as half of all food produced globally for human consumption is wasted every year. That is a staggering figure, particularly considering that around one in nine people on the earth do not have enough food to live a healthy life. Couple this with estimates that the global population will reach close to 9 billion people by 2050, and the need to reduce food waste to ease the strain on resources and agricultural land is more vital than ever.

To look at where we can make a difference, we must first look at the food value chain. There are five steps in the process: production, handling and storage, processing and packaging, distribution and market and consumption. Emerging economies waste 40% of food during the first two steps of the value chain, while mature economies waste 40% of food during the last two steps. Processing and packaging lies in the middle of the value chain and has the potential to make an impact on both sides of the economic divide.

Cans offer distinct advantages in the battle to combat food waste when compared to other packaging formats. Since they are hermetically sealed, they preserve their contents and the vast majority of nutrients for very long periods of time. The process also destroys a variety of pathogens and deactivates enzymes that can lead to premature deterioration of food. For example, only canning heat treatments ensure the complete destruction of spores of B. cereus, which can lead to intestinal illness. They do not require refrigeration, which leads to significant energy savings from canning until serving. The format also has an unprecedented safety record where food-borne illness is concerned.

All of these factors lead to canned food being safely and robustly transported throughout the value chain, maintaining product quality and nutritional value for consumers for far longer than fresh food options. A study undertaken by Crown in partnership with the University of Delaware in the U.S. showed the positive impact of cans across all test products. For example, fresh sweetcorn was found to sustain 32% consumer losses, frozen 36%, while canned sustained just 7% losses. Similar results were found across almost all products examined.

Having extrapolated the data generated from the study, entitled Effects of Metal Packaging on Energy and Food Waste, it was found that if food was packaged in metal cans, rather than being packaged for refrigeration or freezing, over 1 billion liters of food could be saved globally in consumer households. Even if excess product were to be sent for canning, it would make a significant difference. Seasonal gluts are not uncommon, and a great deal of excess product is wasted when it could be encased in metal and used to provide essential nutrients for somebody at a later date.

Finally, the packaging itself is effortlessly sustainable as it is made with metal, which is infinitely recyclable without loss of properties. A recycled can may become another can in a short time, if placed within the correct recycling infrastructure, which adds another crucial layer to the many and varied benefits of metal packaging. Approximately 80% of metal ever produced is still in use today – a remarkable thought. What we must remember, however, is that food does not benefit from the same sustainable credentials. If we waste it, it is gone, therefore preserving it through the use of metal packaging may be one of the answers to the challenge food waste poses today. 

To learn more, download our white paper “Food Waste: Turning a Challenge into an Opportunity.”