Stepac’s role in responsible use of plastic packaging for reducing food waste

Society is calling for a reduction in the use of plastic packaging. However, plastic packaging plays an important role in reducing food waste. How can we balance this out and ensure that by solving one problem, we don’t end up with an even bigger one on our hands?

We spoke with Dr. Gary Ward of StePac L.A. Ltd., a company specializing in the development of modified atmosphere packaging for shelf life extension of fresh produce.

“There is no doubt that we see excessive use of plastic in the industry, but we need to be sensible about this and not abandon it, but only use it when we really need to. A more responsible, leaner, and sustainable approach is required.”

  1. Modern society is increasingly concerned by plastic pollution. How significant an issue is plastic pollution in comparison to food waste?

Both food waste and plastic pollution are urgent issues. I just wish that food waste was receiving the attention that plastic pollution is. It is responsible for ~8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Functional plastic packaging is part of the solution for preventing this waste and ousting it would result in even higher levels of food waste. This is where education and a more holistic approach is required.

  1. So what is StePac doing about it?

StePac believes in a four-pillar approach for lightening the environmental footprint of plastic packaging. The principles are straightforward:

  1. Only use plastic packaging if it is really needed and has a climate positive effect, i.e. it saves more carbon dioxide emissions than it creates
  2. Keep it as lean as possible
  3. Strive for mechanically recyclable packaging
  4. Chemically recycling should be adopted for those functional films that cannot be replaced by mechanically recyclable alternatives and support a circular economy

3. Can you give us examples?

There are many examples of solutions that StePac has developed over the years that are climate positive and contribute to reducing waste and support a more sustainable environment. I’ll refer to some of the most recent.

We successfully developed a resealable lidding film solution that enables Chilean cherry exporters to pack and ship by sea to mainland China. It offers multiple benefits:

  • Packing at source in the final packaging reduces labor costs
  • Facilitates sea shipment
  • Preserves quality all the way to the consumers home and is ideal for multiple servings
  • Fully recyclable when thrown away with the punnet Another example is Xflow™, a next generation system for bulk-flow packing of fresh produce. Xflow meets the needs for automation and leaner film specifications by saving up to 40% in use of plastic film in comparison to the preformed bag variant.

Peruvian exporters of blueberries are now benefiting from this by automatically packing 12 clamshells with Xflow for export.

We were recently in China to welcome arrivals of blueberries in Xflow. The appearance of the film is unsurpassable. Since the film is tightly wrapped around the clamshells and highly transparent, with no condensation, the blueberries are easily visible.

The aesthetic appearance of the film and the quality of the blueberries are what matter to the Chinese importers, but from a sustainability perspective this film is lean and is preserving quality of blueberries through lengthy supply chains.

Chinese importers are willing to pay premium prices for high-quality cherries and blueberries.

This has stimulated growth in export of these fruits from Peru and Chile to China, and with it created a need for such attractive, functional and sustainable packaging to preserve quality during the lengthy sea freight.

4. What is the key secret of StePac’s success?

One of our key attributes is that we listen to our customers and are attentive to trends in fresh produce and packaging. This helps us understand where we should invest R&D efforts to develop new and exciting products that bring value to our customers and meet the market trends for more responsible and sustainable plastics.

Developing shelf life extension packaging products requires a multidisciplinary approach combining a profound understanding of the interaction between produce physiology, prevailing supply chain conditions and packaging design. In this respect, StePac is one of a kind.

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