International research agenda to reduce food waste

One of the UN Global Goals For Sustainable Development is to by 2030 reduce the 1,3 billion tons of edible food wasted annually by half. Helén Williams, Associate Professor in Environmental and Energy Systems at Karlstad University, is determined to contribute to this goal with insights on the role and environmental impact of packaging. She is one of the researchers behind the newly published research agenda “Packaging Strategies that Save Food – a Research Agenda for 2030”.

Helén Williams is a researcher at CTF, Service Research Center at Karlstad University, where she studies packaging from a service perspective. Helén is one of the researchers at Karlstad University we are working with.

“In a world where the population is growing, and agriculture is increasingly pressured due to climate change, more of the produced food must be eaten. Access to agricultural land and access to water for food production is limited. My research is investigating whether and how packaging can help reduce food being wasted, based on consumer behavior and needs”, Helén Williams says.

Packaging not just an environmental problem

Over the past ten years, Helén Williams together with her colleague Fredrik Wikström, has highlighted the role of packaging to reduce the environmental impact.

“There is attention to packaging in the environmental debate. Reports on increasing plastic waste follow each other and the justification of packaging is questioned, but there are two important missing facts when looking at packaging as an environmental problem. The first is that food accounts for 30 percent of the climate impact of households, which is significantly greater environmental impact than the packaging itself. The second is that it is possible to design packaging to help the consumer to waste less food and thereby reduce the environmental impact”, Helén Williams says.

Research agenda for reducing food waste by half

In 2016, Helén Williams and Fredrik Wikström took the initiative to invite a group of international leading researchers to jointly tackle this complex research area. Together they have created a research agenda with prioritized research-, and development issues on how packaging can contribute to the UN Global Objective – reduced food waste by half by 2030.

“We need more knowledge on what packaging attributes that play the biggest role in food waste for different products, and be better at evaluating the environmental impact of packaging in different countries. Depending on whether the food waste becomes animal food or ends up in the waste plant, and if the packaging is recycled or end up in the sea, the best options for packaging will be very different. We need to find business models for how producers can make money selling packaging that reduce food waste. In the end, it is also about getting consumers to choose packages that help them throw less food instead of prioritizing the lowest price and big packs”, Helén Williams says.

The research agenda Packaging Strategies that Save Food – A research agenda for 2030 was recently published in the scientific journal Industrial Ecology. The research has attracted great attention both nationally and internationally.

Helén Williams was recently appointed Associate Professor in Environmental and Energy Systems at Karlstad University. She is together with her colleague Fredrik Wikström one of the pioneers in Swedish food waste research. She has built the international network “Packaging Saves Food Research Group” and is a diligently engaged lecturer about sustainable development. Her interest in environmental and climate issues has been important throughout her career and her engaged commitment to the issue cannot be mistaken during her lectures.