Ways to a Sustainable International Food Packaging Industry

Ali Badarneh, Division Chief at United Nations International Development Organization, is giving insights into current challenges related to packaging around the world. At FACHPACK, Ali Badarneh addresses ways to a more circular and sustainable food packaging industry.

What challenges and urgent fields of action do you see for the food packaging industry in the international context?

Ali Badarneh: According to UNEP, approximately one-third of the food produced for human consumption globally every year is lost or wasted, in the region of 1.3 billion tons. In developing countries, food waste and loss could be traced back to managerial, financial, and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, as well as storage and cooling facilities. From that, approximately 40% of food waste and loss in developing countries occurs at post-harvest and processing stages. In contrast, in industrialized countries, more than 40% of food waste and loss occurs at retail and consumer levels, according to UNEP.

In an attempt to reduce the amount of food waste and loss, solidifying the supply chain by directly supporting farmers and investing in infrastructure, transportation, and an expansion of the food and packaging industry is of importance. Similarly, another field of action is building capacities among food processing industries to comply with quality and food safety requirements of local and international markets, and delivering assistance to ensure food safety.

What measures is UNIDO taking to promote sustainability, in the food packaging industry?

Badarneh: Developments in sustainable food packaging play a crucial role in keeping the global food supply safe. UNIDO commits to and enhances its contribution to the 2030 Agenda and, in particular, SDG 9. In the context of promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial development and economic transformation, a thematic emphasis is placed on climate protection, food security, and ending hunger, as well as on fair production and trade. UNIDO’s sustainable food packaging approach contributes to the competitiveness of the food and agribusiness sector. It addresses local needs and priorities through a multilevel intervention approach aiming at upgrading the technical competences of the packaging sector as well as improving the packaging practices of the beneficiary sectors. The establishment of a packaging center lies at the core of UNIDO’s packaging intervention ensuring the provision of specialized technical services, disseminating best practices, and promoting packaging as an important tool for the industry. This is supported by a demand-driven enabling environment for packaging services.

Which specific projects are being carried out in this regard?

Badarneh: In this regard, UNIDO aims to identify, develop and manage projects that enhance food production and processing by helping agribusinesses, including SMEs and smallholders, access adequate business development services, knowledge and technology, finance, markets, and trade opportunities. As well as promote the setting up of Centers of Excellence to enhance food value chain performance and ensure the centers access appropriate and affordable technology, knowledge, and support services. One of the ways to achieve such projects is to collaborate with suppliers of innovative and smart technology solutions for food processing, packaging, handling, storage, and post-harvest loss reduction and promote their adoption among food processors in developing countries. UNIDO designs, formulates, and implements projects and programmes in a number of countries in partnership with our member states and public and private stakeholders. Currently, UNIDO is managing a portfolio in Cambodia, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and South Africa, among others.

UNIDO and WPO started working together. What are the plans and results of this cooperation? Are there specific projects to talk about?

Badarneh: UNIDO and WPO concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in November 2017 to provide tailored packaging interventions to upgrade agro value chains and support agri-food industries in complying with international standards, accessing markets, and creating sustainable production models. The three main strategic areas of cooperation are: the development and implementation of specialized training and capacity building programmes on packaging; setting-up national packaging centers; and the promotion and organization of student and industry packaging competitions. UNIDO has a successful track record in implementing packaging projects. One of its flagship interventions is the establishment of LibanPack, the Lebanese Packaging Centre, in 2008 under the MACLE (Market Access & Compliance for Lebanese Export) in collaboration with the Association of Lebanese Industrialists and WPO. LibanPack provides specialized services in labeling, food safety, marketing as well as packaging design, and testing services to local SMEs. As part of its awareness-raising activities and with the support of UNIDO and WPO, LibanPack launched a student packaging competition, “Lebanon Student StarPack” in April 2010. The competition has been held on an annual basis, attracting a large number of Lebanese students every year. Furthermore, UNIDO and WPO launched “Arab Student StarPack” in May 2017 as the first regional packaging competition in the Arab region. In this year, 2022, “Arab Student StarPack” welcomed more than 450 different entries.

Furthermore, a step-by-step guide to establish a national student StarPack competition to facilitate the set-up of national competitions was jointly developed in cooperation with LibanPack, “StarPack Guide Publication.” Promotion of partnership to Member States through profiling WPO members and developing factsheets for information dissemination, participation in global forums, and showcasing success stories.

In addition, over the past years, UNIDO and WPO conducted assessments and sector studies as well as training on food related packaging in a number of Member States, including Egypt, Morocco, and Pakistan, with the aim of designing and implementing tailored packaging interventions. In addition, both organizations have been engaged in discussions to address environmental aspects of packaging, more specifically packaging and sustainability, adopting and promoting the principles of a circular economy. Lastly, UNIDO and WPO aim to apply the principles of the circular economy to food systems, and are assessing “sustainable packaging” interventions for agri-business value chains.

And what could in general be the next steps towards a circular and sustainable food packaging industry in an international context, from your point of view?

Badarneh: One of the ways to achieve a more circular and sustainable food packaging industry is by establishing national packaging centers and encouraging the use of various tools to lessen food waste and loss, and improve food safety and food security while also decreasing the environmental footprint. Furthermore, with the centers being exposed to a global network, information can flow much quicker and members can share best practices, innovations and technologies among each other. The centers also serve as knowledge hubs, showcasing best practices to national, regional and global value chains.

by Jürgen Baltes

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