For centuries, humans have honed their culinary skills and experimented with food. In fact, the food we encounter on a daily basis is so enjoyable that it’s easy to forget that the way we produce, distribute, and consume food all have significant impacts on the health of our planet.
From greenhouse gasses to deforestation, the food industry contributes to the many environmental challenges and existential threats we face today. There is hope, however – as consumers become more aware of the impacts their food choices have on the environment, sustainability has become an important issue for modern consumers and businesses alike.
As we settle into 2023, we need to set milestones that will steer the food industry toward a more sustainable future. This guide will explore three food sustainability milestones to aim for in 2023.
- Food sustainability is a top priority for the industry in 2023.
- Reducing food waste, increasing plant-based offerings, and offering sustainable packaging are all milestones you can accomplish this year.
- Attend SIAL America to connect with like-minded peers as we pursue sustainability together.
1. Reduce Food Waste
Not having enough food is a serious issue, and just as serious is having too much food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food producers lose or waste about a third of all food globally.
Not only is this a significant waste of resources, but it also has environmental implications. Food waste results in the release of greenhouse gases, depletion of natural resources, and unnecessary consumption of energy and water.
To fight back against these consequences, the food industry needs to adopt more sustainable practices, such as better inventory management, streamlined production processes, and improved transportation and storage. Unfortunately, these changes cannot happen overnight – they require cooperation and participation from all stakeholders in the food supply chain, from farmers to retailers to consumers.
2. Increase Plant-Based Offerings
It’s no secret that the plant-based market is here. Changing customer expectations are already driving diversification on grocery store shelves, but in 2023 you should consider increasing your own plant-based offerings to contribute to this shift toward sustainability.
The production of animal-based foods has a significant impact on the environment in three key areas:
Plant-based foods require less land compared to animal-based foods. To produce a kilogram of beef, you would need about 28 times more land and 11 times more water than if you produced a kilogram of wheat. Through changing consumer behavior, we can reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture, which also has the benefits of preventing deforestation and habitat destruction.
About 60% of the human body is water, so it’s no wonder that the average human drinks 5 liters of water and uses another 100-175 gallons every day. Like humans, animals require a lot of water, to the tune of about 7,000 liters, to produce a single pound of beef. Agriculture is a water-intensive process, but animal agriculture, in particular, drowns out its alternatives. By encouraging plant-based consumption, we can reduce the amount of water needed for food production, securing more fresh water for drinking, sanitation, and recreation.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, climate change. During digestion and manure decomposition, animals produce methane. This unavoidable byproduct of animal agriculture is a potent greenhouse gas on its own, but coupled with emissions from the tools farmers must use to feed, transport, and process livestock, animal agriculture leaves plant-based agriculture in the dust in terms of gas emissions.
By contrast, plant-based foods have a smaller carbon footprint, requiring fewer resources to cultivate and producing fewer emissions. This step toward plant-based offerings is an important stride against the tide of greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Use Sustainable Packaging
History has taught us many lessons the hard way, and along the way, we’ve learned that packaging is an indispensable part of the food industry. Now, history is teaching us another lesson: packaging has to be sustainable.
Plastic packaging is a major environmental problem as loose plastic contributes to pollution and harms wildlife, ranging from turtles to insects to birds. Plastic poses a significant threat to a wide range of wildlife.
To reduce the impact of packaging on the environment, the food industry must adopt more sustainable packaging practices. Thankfully, there are many technologies available today that are doing just that. For example, biodegradable and/or compostable packaging materials are rising in popularity along with reusable packaging options. In 2023, the food industry should aim for 75% of all food packaging to be either recyclable or compostable/biodegradable.
Grow Better, Together
SIAL America provides a unique opportunity for key players to share experiences, best practices, and innovations in food sustainability. Whether your organization deals directly with regenerative agriculture, waste reduction, or minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, SIAL America provides a platform to connect with like-minded professionals who share your struggles and goals.
Join us at the 2024 edition of SIAL America in Las Vegas, Nevada, from March 19-21.