Technical University of Munich, Freising, Germany
The abundant plastic waste in the environment ranging from macroscopic pieces down to nanoscale particulates poses a serious threat on all types of plastic packaging. As, at the same time, packaging is needed to reduce food wastage, there seems to be a principal dilemma. A similar observation can be made when looking at criteria for global sustainability, such as the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030: Each individual goal seems to make sense, but if several criteria are to be balanced in a specific case, they are often counteracting. The presentation uses concrete examples to illustrate aspects of sustainability in packaging. Obviously, there is no ideal way out of the dilemma: light weighting brings an advantage on the resource side, but does not solve the litter problem and may be negative to recycling. Closed loop recycling generally reduces environmental loads throughout the life of the product, but can only be applied for some selected cases today. Changing from multilayer-based to nanomaterials may facilitate recycling, but it increases the packaging weight and thus transport emissions. Bio-based degradable plastics may reduce litter problems, but lead to functional deficiencies in product protection and may even lead to much more greenhouse gas emissions than packaging from a conventional polymer. Finally, the loss of packed food causes much more environmental impact than the production of its packaging. The consequences are different for the different actors: The food producer should still place the highest priority on product protection when looking for alternatives to current packaging materials, while national and European authorities should focus not only on recycling and material bans but, more importantly on avoiding landfilling of plastic waste.
Horst-Christian Langowski is Professor of the Chair of Food Packaging Technology, Dean of Studies at the TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, and the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging, Fraunhofer IVV, Freising, Germany. He received his Diploma degree in Physics in 1980 and Ph.D. degree in 1989, both at the University of Hannover, Germany. He worked with the Philips group from 1981-1991 as a development engineer and project manager before joining Fraunhofer IVV in 1991. Since then, he has been deeply involved in the food packaging and shelf life research both at TUM and Fraunhofer IVV. Prof. Langowski has received numerous research grants and presented his work at several international conferences. He has published many research papers, technical papers, patents, book chapters and has supervised many master’s and doctoral theses. Among other functions, he is member of the management board of the Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan and a member of the advisory board of the group on Extrusion Technology within the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure, VDI. He is also the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Food Packaging & Shelf Life which is published by Elsevier Science, UK.