Sustainability in the food industry is an increasingly important and discussed topic. More consumers and businesses are taking accountability for their contribution to the worsening environment. While significant sustainable improvements have been adopted within the food industry, it still faces major obstacles.
We’ll explore some key advancements and remaining challenges the food industry faces in the name of sustainability.
Single-waste is a big problem for our landfills because some materials, such as thin plastics, cannot be recycled. In the last decade, more and more companies have redesigned their product packaging for more sustainable alternatives. Goods that may have been wrapped in plastics are switching to recyclable materials like cardboard or compostable materials to reduce their impact on the environment and landfills.
Many companies hope to appeal to consumers through sustainable packaging efforts, while others are doing away with packaging overall. For example, in some countries, fruits like apples and bananas are wrapped in plastic for sanitary purposes and to protect the fruit from damage and bugs. However, packaging examples like these are unnecessary uses of unrecyclable materials. As more businesses align their values with consumers and restaurants through reducing packaging waste, other companies will take note and follow the eco-friendly packaging trend.
In addition to reduced packaging, other companies are transforming their packaging to align with sustainable efforts. Biodegradable packaging, corrugated bubble wrap, recycled packaging, packaging that can be repurposed into something else, or even packaging with seeds that can be planted and grown. Companies can delight their customers while reducing their environmental impact.
Better agricultural practices
Sustainability is also changing the way our food is grown and produced. More farmers and food production companies are looking for ways to improve their agricultural practices with sustainability in mind. Sustainable agriculture benefits our planet in many ways, and more consumers are voting with their wallets by purchasing organic thoughtfully-produced products.
Crop rotation and biodiversity retention are two crucial tactics for maintaining soil quality and protecting local strains of different crops. Additionally, many farms are doing away with harmful pesticides and opting for natural alternatives. Another major issue in the food industry is food waste because decomposing materials release carbon dioxide into the air, furthering climate change. By reducing food waste through the selling of ‘imperfect’ vegetables and fruits and taking action to sustain the products they grow, farmers and food manufacturers reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the air.
Supply chain improvements
Food manufacturers can make significant sustainable improvements by improving their supply chain management. By optimizing the supply chain and logistics operations, companies can reduce the amount of food waste in their manufacturing process. Better inventory management and demand forecasting allow companies to reduce the number of products they discard each month. Supply chain improvements also promote transparency in the food industry by providing customers with sustainable improvements that include valuable information about the foods they consume.
Mindful ingredient sourcing
Mindful ingredient sourcing promotes sustainability in the food industry in several ways. More consumers are choosing to purchase locally sourced products, reducing the carbon footprint of food transportation. Additionally, more customers are opting for ingredients grown using sustainable farming practices or hydroponics, giving a leg up to agricultural companies that promote sustainability. Mindful ingredient sourcing also has sociological benefits by pressuring suppliers to instill fair labor practices, promoting social sustainability and responsibility.
Plant-based proteins and protein alternatives promote sustainability in the food industry as they often require less water, land, and other resources which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact. Plant-based proteins are more resource efficient because they require fewer resources than animal-based proteins.
Plant-based proteins also tend to be lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, reducing the environmental impact of healthcare systems and leading to better health amongst consumers.
Food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because decomposing organic waste releases methane. Additionally, the transportation of goods wastes resources and contributes to unnecessary environmental damage.
Food waste is also a major ethical concern as it results in food insecurity and the global hunger problem. Throwing away food instead of feeding it to underserved communities not only has negative environmental implications but sociological ones as well. Food waste reduces the amount of food available in the market, which could otherwise be used to feed people in poor communities or food deserts.
Water is an essential resource in the food and agriculture industry. However, the reliance on over-using water resources presents a major environmental problem in the food industry. Agriculture accounts for 70% of our freshwater resources, and as our population continues to grow, water resources become increasingly scarce. The food industry also continues to water pollution as agricultural runoff and wastewater can pollute water resources, making them unfit for human consumption.
While many companies in the food industry are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, the food industry remains a significant contributor to climate change. The production, procession, transportation, and storage of food products all generate greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to around 25% of global greenhouse emissions.
The food industry also contributed to deforestation to expand available agricultural land and because of poor agricultural practices, degraded soil quality as well. Because addressing the industry’s negative impacts, like major changes in food production practices, climate change remains a major challenge in the food industry.
The use of single-use plastics is another major issue in the food industry. Single-use packaging depletes energy and other natural resources to manufacture, transport, and dispose of. Single-use packaging also contributed to environmental pollution like air, land, and water pollution. For example, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an infamous example of how single-use plastics are destroying our oceans.
Working our way to sustainability in the food industry
Overall, sustainability remains a critical issue in the food industry. While major changes have been made to reduce environmental impact, these practices are not as widely adopted as one would hope. Stakeholders, consumers, businesses, and policymakers must work together to address these issues and promote sustainability in the food industry.
With impactful changes, the food industry can make major progress for present and future generations.
Megan Isola holds a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and a minor in Business Marketing from Cal State University Chico.