Too good to throw away: Why saving food is important for the climate

05/07/2022 | 3 min read
Sebastian Diensthuber

Squandering food is expensive and harmful to both our natural environment and our climate. Yet a third of all edible food around the world still goes to waste. This has a huge impact, especially in terms of CO2 emissions.

Whether it is the best-before date just gone on the yogurt in the fridge, bent cucumbers in the fields, stores putting out their full range until just before closing time, or oversize portions in the cafeteria, there are enough reasons why food ends up in the garbage in all areas of our economy. And while some of these reasons are obvious, others only come to light after further examination.

Factors that contribute to food waste:

Food waste in households: a major problem

Food is wasted from one end of the value chain to the other, but particularly large amounts of food are thrown away in households: around 75 kilograms per person per year in Germany alone. In the EU, around 88 million metric tons of food end up going to waste every year, which accounts for roughly 20% of all food products. At the same time, 33 million people in the bloc cannot even afford one high-quality meal every other day.

Food production and carbon footprint

Foods that are never consumed still use up land, water, energy, and resources. According to Environmental Action Germany, food waste generates almost half a ton of greenhouse gases per person per year – about 4% of Germany’s total annual emissions. A study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg, Germany has revealed that particularly large amounts of carbon emissions are generated from the production of meat, milk, and dairy products:

  • Beef: 13-15 kg CO2 equivalent per kg
  • Pork: ~5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg
  • Milk: 1.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg
  • Yogurt: 2.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg
  • Cheese: 5.7 kg CO2 equivalent per kg

If groceries like these end up in the garbage, it is not only an ethical and moral problem – it is also a concern with regard to climate change

Packaging protects food

The EU is committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and aims to halve food waste among retailers and consumers by 2030. To achieve this, action needs to be taken along the entire value chain – and the packaging sector will have to play its part too. Even if many stakeholders focusing on sustainability would like to see a world with virtually no food packaging, it must be noted that food packaging often plays a key role when it comes to shelf life.

Why is this the case? Because if food is left unpackaged, it is directly exposed to oxygen. This changes the color, taste, and nutritional value of food as the process of oxidation sets in. For this reason, products like meat and cheese that are particularly susceptible to oxidation are often packaged in a modified atmosphere or in airtight packaging. Oxygen also accelerates the growth of microorganisms and germs, such as mold. Packaging can help to prevent food waste, as a study by the Denkstatt environmental consultants based in Vienna demonstrates:

  • Steak: 75% reduction in food waste
  • Cheese: 97% reduction
  • Bread rolls: 93% reduction
  • Chicken: 65% reduction
  • Cucumbers: 50% reduction

But how does packaging look in terms of CO2? Is it not possible to reduce emissions drastically by cutting out plastic film and cups? Not at all.
Packaging only accounts for a fraction of a product’s carbon footprint, as the following examples illustrate:

  • 330 g beef: packaging: 0.07 kg CO2 equivalent, product inside: ~5 kg CO2 equivalent
  • 150 g cheese: packaging: 0.046 kg CO2 equivalent, product inside: ~0.86 kg CO2 equivalent
  • 150 g yogurt: packaging: 0.008 kg CO2 equivalent, product inside: 0.375 kg CO2 equivalent

All right, but what sort of packaging?

But we still need to strike a sustainable balance in this context. Only the exact amount of packaging that is necessary should be used in the food sector. Different packaging sizes are also important, allowing for the needs of both singles and families to be met.

But not all packaging solutions are the same – does it make a difference what material is used? And if so, what factors come into play for the different products? As the current sustainability debate goes on, glass in particular is experiencing an enormous boost in popularity. Milk and yogurt are offered in attractive glass containers “just like in the good old days,” with consumers happy to put up with their heavy weight in exchange for a clear conscience. But is this retro trend really justifiable? How does it stack up against plastic and tinplate packaging? In a recent white paper, we weighed up the pros and cons of the different packaging materials – and came across a few surprises. Find out more today: Click here to download the white paper.

Tough Choices


This white paper shines a light on how different packaging materials affect the climate and CO2 emissions, weighing up the pros and cons of the available options.

Barrier for longer shelf life

In addition to different packaging materials, there are also innovative technologies that can ensure food enjoys a longer shelf life without preservatives. This includes barrier technologies, which are used with plastic packaging. These create significant added value and are a key factor in getting the packaged product from filling line to consumer at the highest level of quality. Greiner Packaging offers a variety of different barrier technologies, allowing it to meet exact customer and product requirements. From sauces through pet products to baby food, foods with special filling and quality requirements particularly benefit from barrier packaging solutions. For all the details about the individual technologies, see our barrier folder, which is available to download here. If you prefer to listen rather than read, our barrier expert Bettina Schrenk gave a keynote speech that also has all the information you need. You can find her full talk here. Are you on board? Then the next step is to make an appointment to speak directly with our product category manager, Sebastian Eisenhuber (contact), who will be happy to answer all your questions.

Get in touch

Sebastian Diensthuber
Global Product Group Manager

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