Food Waste, Reusables and Thanksgiving

Commercial transport amphoras are large ceramic vessels that were used from 1500 BC to 500 AD to ship wine and other products throughout the Mediterranean. (See Dr. Twede's paper, The packaging technology and science of ancient transport amphoras

The use of reusables for food and beverage containers goes far back in time. Commercial transport amphoras, such as the large ceramic vessels pictured above, were used from 1500 BC to 500 AD to ship wine and other products throughout the Mediterranean. (See Dr. Twede’s paper, The packaging technology and science of ancient transport amphoras.)

Food and reusables have a timeless relationship, one that dates long back before Plymouth Rock to a time of clay pots and amphoras. It is a relationship, however, that remains fresh today. See, for example, Jeremy Kranowitz’ article: Food Waste in America: $452 Million Per Day.

The numbers are important. For example, Kranowitz notes:

On an annual basis, $165 billion (that is with a “b”) is wasted on producing food that never gets eaten. This happens all along the value chain – farmers use 80% of our nation’s drinking water supply and 10% of our nation’s energy supply to grow food.

With the U.S. Thanksgiving celebration around the corner, it is perhaps appropriate to contemplate the role of reusables in promoting freshness and product integrity, as well as how consumer behavior helps drive waste in the system.


Further Reading: Study Explores Packaging System Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste


Well designed unit load packaging systems can help minimize food waste through such attributes such as superior cooling, product protection, cube efficiency, and ease of material handling, but that is not enough. Retail and households account for 33 percent of food that is scrapped from the food system and ends up as waste.

Source: SUSTAINABLE America

Source: Sustainable America

My first thought is that system failure further up the supply chain in areas such as temperature abuse or packaging failure could manifest in shrink further downstream, but clearly, there is a lot of work to be done all along the system, from better temperature control during harvest to better consumer decision making.

So what role can unit load packaging play? The benefits outlined above are important. Additionally, the reusable packaging community could perhaps play an even more significant role through sensors in smart packaging, and maybe as well through helping to shape consumer behavior at the point of sale through initiatives such as Rehrig Pacific’s NFC initiative.

For now, I’ll leave you with Kranowitz’s Thanksgiving food waste tips:

  1. Only buy what you need. Buying in bulk only saves you money if you use the food before it goes bad.
  2. Choose recipes that “fit together.” Picking recipes that, for example, call for whole vegetables, entire containers of broth, etcetera to minimize waste.
  3. Grow and eat locally. Eating locally sourced food, especially from urban farms reduces travel time for your food to reach you and reduces the incidence of food spoiling in transit.
  4. Plan ahead for “special” ingredients. For ingredients you do not normally use, think about how you will store, preserve, or use them in other recipes in advance.
  5. Don’t trash the scraps. Consider mashing potatoes with the skins on and saving turkey leftovers for stock.
  6. Save it for later. Encourage guests to take home rather than throw away what they do not finish. Provide reusable containers for leftovers.
  7. Encourage composting in your home and seek out other methods that seek to return biodegradable nutrients back to the soil, enriching the soil for food growth, rather than sending it to landfills. Don’t have compost at home? Search for a composter near you.
  8. Take excess unopened food to your local food bank.
  9. Educate yourself. Get informed about buying habits, food storage, and composting to reduce food waste at How to Have A Zero Waste Feast and on the EPA’s website.

This article first appeared in November 2014, with updates.