The story of packaging started with eating,
from Egyptians' clay pots to Kellogs’ corn flakes
by: Audrey-Flore Ngomsik, scientist in residence in collaboration with collective 3 137
Does our everyday meal have an environmental impact? Can we become activists through eating? Can our food waste propagate a sustainable earth? What does a dinner with zero waste look like? Can we imagine our single used packaging being eaten or worn? Can we rethink how previous generations produced and reflect this experience in our contemporary and future production system? How can we foresee and be prepared for the dystopian scenarios of the near future?
3 137 collective and scientist Audrey-Flore Ngomsik are the residents of STUDIOTOPIA Art&Science Programme hosted by Onassis Stegi, they work together on a project that focuses on the circular economy model and ways that can be applied in our everyday nutrition and habits.
How the circular economy could be an answer to a more sustainable food system? In this part of the project we are looking into food packaging.
The story of packaging started with eating. People had to travel from A to B. Food needed to be preserved for soldiers. This is how the first containers were born.
In the last 70 years, food packaging has been key in the improvement of food safety and quality as it protects food from contaminants, oxidation, microbial spoilage, it increases the shelf life of food and provides opportunities to transport food worldwide.
For the last 50 years, plastic made from fossil fuels has been often used, because it is very cheap.
It is easy to use, easy to make and easy to clean to food standards. The issue is that this packaging is meant to be used only once – that makes it a perfect example of linear economy.
This plastic is not recycled, so despite your weekly sorting, it could be burnt or worse, end up in landfill sites.
In 2019, the global production of plastics reached 368 million metric tons, with 57.9 million metric tons of that amount produced in Europe alone.
How much of it is for food packaging?
To visualise this number, consider a pallet of banana boxes as a unit. Such a pallet weighs approx. 1 ton. Placing 368 million of such pallets one after the other would result in line long enough to span the circumference of the earth 2½ times. And that’s just for one single year!
As the world population increases, so will the problem. The main issue is that food packaging is a single-use item, which is immediately disposed of after the product it contained is consumed.
In Greece, most of the plastic waste ends up in landfill sites due to challenges with waste collection and management.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. We have no precise idea what the impact of this from a public health perspective will be but your guess is as good as ours.
Why then are we going on using limited resources, i.e. fossil fuels that create carbon emissions to produce plastic items that will be used once and then pollute the food chain for centuries to come? And what alternative ways are there? Could we use side products from the food production (leaves, stems, etc.) as raw materials to produce bioplastics which will have similar properties to conventional plastics? That would be a step towards the circular economy!
Such a process was, in fact, invented at the same time with fossil fuel-based plastics but it did not make industrialisation. Now there is a market opportunity. Could we, the consumers, make steps in the right direction?
Let’s start with the supermarket. What if supermarkets had to organise (and pay for!) the disposal of all the plastic packaging their products come in? What would happen if consumers refused to buy products in plastic packaging?
On April 8, a group of 7 people met at a local supermarket.Their goal was to buy packaged products and leave the supermarket without packaging.
It has become clear that supermarkets are part of the problem. Though supermarkets could be part of the solution too, through influencing their suppliers and the way they use packaging.
Stores have the power to make or break a brand. So why don’t they make their suppliers use less plastic, or switch to bioplastics?
Many alternatives to plastic packaging are available. If all supermarkets asked their suppliers to make an effort it could have a huge impact, and it is up to us as consumers, to put pressure on the supermarkets.
Things are moving. In France, for example, a new law has passed, decreeing that by 2030, each supermarket will have to dedicate 20% of its entire surface area to packaging-free shopping, i.e. bulk shopping.
A step in the right direction!
"The story of packaging started with eating, from Egyptians' clay pots to Kellogs' corn flakes" hosted by Onassis Stegi is part of the STUDIOTOPIA project supported by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.