Knowledge gaps for perishable liquid food packs threaten Green Deal

Professor Fredrik Nilsson, Packaging Logistics, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University

Policymakers are currently deliberating on packaging reuse targets in the proposed EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). But do they have the necessary evidence to make those decisions for all packaged products? A systematic review of 159 relevant scientific studies on packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods[1] — milk, juices, nectars and plant-based drinks — suggests there is a clear gap in holistic impact assessment knowledge.

Packaging of perishable liquid foods exists in various forms such as aseptic paper-based beverage cartons or non-aseptic solutions such as plastic or glass bottles. Each packaging solution has an impact on the quality, safety and shelf life of the food it contains. In assessing packaging solutions, efforts should be made to understand the wider context of reuse targets for perishable liquid foods, with consideration for packaging types, food security, food safety, food waste and environmental impacts.

In both research and policy contexts, packaging is still often considered separately from its contents in impact assessments.

However, in both research and policy contexts, packaging is still often considered separately from its contents in impact assessments, despite an existing body of knowledge and evidence showing that food and its packaging should be treated as an integrated unit.

Consequently, policymakers served only with evidence of packaging impacts could be misled and make inaccurate decisions when discussing the measures included in the proposed EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). This risks undermining the EU’s Green Deal ambitions.

The importance of the analysis

One of the primary objectives of the proposed PPWR is to ensure that “all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030”, in line with the EU Green Deal and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. Setting reusable packaging targets was always likely to spark a robust debate with the food industry. The European food system uses a large amount of packaging and the use of single-use packaging in particular has grown significantly in the past decades. For perishable liquid foods, producers today prefer recyclable single-use packaging — such as aseptic beverage cartons — for the sale of 75 percent of milk, 59 percent of juices and a major share of plant-based drinks in the EU[2].

We undertook a comprehensive and systematic analysis of all identifiable studies on single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods.

With a specific focus on the 154 billion liters of perishable liquid foods produced in the EU each year[3], a more fundamental question occurred to the Packaging Logistics division in the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University. We wondered if a sufficient body of evidence existed to help policymakers make packaging reuse decisions, so we undertook a comprehensive and systematic analysis of all identifiable studies on single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods.

The scale of the knowledge gap that we uncovered was eye-opening.

Findings from the study

Based on an analysis of 159 identified scientific papers, we came to three main conclusions.

First, the research and knowledge of food waste for single-use packaging compared to reusable packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods was clearly insufficient. No studies were found that evaluated reusable packaging for such foods in relation to food waste, consequently no studies were found comparing single-use packaging with reusable packaging in this regard. A few studies were found that evaluated different single-use packaging alternatives in terms of the packaging and the liquid food being contained, finding that multilayer carton packages had the lowest environmental impact. Most environmentally-focused studies on food packaging did not consider the food saved or wasted.

The research and knowledge of food waste for single-use packaging compared to reusable packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods was clearly insufficient.

Second, there were few studies comparing reusable and single-use packaging for perishable liquid foods in terms of food safety and quality. Instead, the majority of sampled papers simply provided insights and evidence for critical factors to be considered in food production and supply chain handling to keep liquid foods safe and of sufficient quality. This analysis surfaced several challenges related to reusable packaging, some related to food safety and others to quality limitations. For example, some studies pointed out quality-related challenges from plastic refillable bottles, such as the absorption of chemicals from previous use.

Finally, while there were many papers addressing shelf life as a critical aspect for perishable liquid foods — and many that empirically provided evidence of lower food waste in retail and at the consumer stage when shelf life is prolonged — there were still sizable knowledge gaps. No studies were found that compared the shelf life of single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods. None were found that evaluated the shelf life of reusable packaging for such foods in relation to food waste, and none were found that clarified what optimal shelf life is for different products.

In our view, the key knowledge gaps at this time are: evidence of food waste impacts for reusable alternatives, so that a comparison with recyclable single-use packaging is possible; comparative studies on food safety and quality impacts through using single-use and reusable alternatives; shelf life comparisons; impact assessments that also take into account climate and land-use impacts; and, most importantly, food packaging studies that take into account the product that the packaging contains and protects.

Key knowledge gaps need to be addressed

Policymakers should be insisting on accessing a more holistic knowledge base built on assessment of impact, before they finalize reusable packaging targets in the PPWR.

The evidence we have today suggests that greater food safety, food security and food quality could be achieved by increasing the use of recyclable single-use packaging.

A more holistic perspective is crucial to help policymakers avoid measures that might miss higher environmental gains, compromise consumers’ health and wellbeing, and reconfigure the packaging industry. Further knowledge might indicate that reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods is feasible under specific circumstances. However, the evidence we have today suggests that greater food safety, food security and food quality could be achieved by increasing the use of recyclable single-use packaging. Support for that choice is already demonstrated today through the packaging chosen by the majority of European milk, juice and plant-based drink producers.

[1] Perishable foods are defined in EU legislation under Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 as foods which, from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health.

[2] AIJN, Liquid Fruit Market Report, 2018, p.7

[3] Key figures on the European food chain, Eurostat, 2021

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Biden’s rebuke of a bold, reform-minded crime law makes all Americans less safe

President Joe Biden’s support for a Republican-led effort to nullify the Washington D.C. City Council’s revision of its criminal code, signed into law on Monday, plays into the fear narrative that is being increasingly advanced across the U.S.

Biden could have used his platform and clout to clarify the actual substance of the carefully crafted District of Columbia proposal — and adhere to his campaign commitment to reduce the number of incarcerated Americans.

Instead, the president ignored the glaring problems in D.C.’s existing criminal code, which the 275-page long package of revisions was designed to address. This included reforming the draconian and inflexible sentencing requirements that have swelled the District’s incarceration rate and wasted countless resources imprisoning individuals who pose no danger to public safety. By rejecting this decade-plus effort, the president decided that D.C. residents have no right to determine for themselves how to fix these problems.

There are communities across the U.S. that see virtually no violent crime, and it isn’t because they’re the most policed.

Biden’s decision is the latest backlash to U.S. justice reform coming from both sides of the political aisle.

Instead of doubling down on failed tough-on-crime tactics, Americans need to come together to articulate and invest in a new vision of public safety. We already know what that looks like because there are communities across the country which see virtually no violent crime, and it isn’t because they’re the most policed.

Safe communities are places where people (even those facing economic distress) are housed, where schools have the resources to teach all children, where the water and air are clean, where families have access to good-paying jobs and comprehensive healthcare, and where those who are struggling are given a hand, not a handcuff.

This is the kind of community every American deserves to live in, but that future is only possible if we shift resources from carceral responses to communities and shift our mindset from punishment to prevention.

Too often it’s easier to advocate for locking people up than it is to innovate and advance a new vision for public safety. 

In the wake of particularly traumatic years, as well as growing divisiveness that has politicized criminal justice reform, it is not surprising that many people believe their communities are less safe. While public perceptions of crime have long been disconnected from actual crime rates and can be heavily influenced by media coverage, the data tells a mixed story. Homicide rates did increase in both urban and rural areas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and record levels of gun sales.

While early available data suggests these numbers are trending down, it’s too soon to tell, especially given the nation’s poor crime data infrastructure. What is clear is that there is no evidence that criminal justice reform is to blame for rising crime, despite well-funded attempts by those resistant to change and who are intent on driving a political agenda to make such a claim stick.

Yet fear often obscures facts; people are scared for their safety and want reassurance. Too often it’s easier to advocate for locking people up than it is to innovate and advance a new vision for public safety.

We need leaders who can govern with both empathy and integrity – who can provide genuine compassion to those who feel scared while also following the data about how to create safer communities. And all the data points to the need for reform.

Mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion annually.

Mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion annually, when you factor in not only the cost of confinement but also the crushing toll placed on incarcerated people and their families, children, and communities. Despite this staggering figure, there’s no real evidence that incarceration works, and in fact some evidence to suggest it actually makes people more likely to commit future crimes. Yet we keep pouring more and more taxpayer dollars into this short-sighted solution that, instead of preventing harm, only delays and compounds it.

We have to stop pretending that reform is the real threat to public safety and recognize how our over-reliance on incarceration actually makes us less safe.

Reform and public safety go hand in hand. Commonsense changes including reforming cash bail, revisiting extreme sentences and diverting people from the criminal legal system have all been shown to have positive effects on individuals and communities.

At a time of record-low clearance rates nationwide and staffing challenges in police departments and prosecutor’s offices, arresting and prosecuting people for low-level offenses that do not impact public safety can actually make us less safe by directing resources away from solving serious crimes and creating collateral consequences for people that make it harder to escape cycles of poverty and crime.

Yet, tough-on-crime proponents repeatedly misrepresent justice reform by claiming that reformers are simply letting people who commit crimes off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reform does not mean a lack of accountability, but rather a more effective version of accountability for everyone involved.

Our traditional criminal legal system has failed victims time and again. In a 2022 survey of crime survivors, just 8% said that the justice system was very helpful in navigating the legal process and being connected to services. Many said they didn’t even report the crime because of distrust of the system.

When asked what they want, many crime survivors express a fundamental desire to ensure that the person who caused them harm doesn’t hurt them or anyone else ever again. But status quo approaches aren’t providing that. The best available data shows that 7 in 10 people released from prison in 2012 were rearrested within five years. Perhaps that’s why crime victims support alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration by large margins.

For example, in New York City, Common Justice offered the first alternative-to-incarceration program in the country focused on violent felonies in adult courts. When given the option, 90% of eligible victims chose to participate in a restorative justice program through Common Justice over incarcerating the person who harmed them. Just 7% of participants have been terminated from the program for committing a new crime.

A restorative justice program launched by former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón for youth facing serious felony charges was shown to reduce participants’ likelihood of rearrest by 44 percent within six months compared to youth who went through the traditional juvenile justice system, and the effects were still notable even four years after the initial offer to participate.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt launched a groundbreaking program last year to allow people convicted of violent offenses to avoid prison time if they commit to behavioral health treatment. As of January, just one of 60 participants had been rearrested for a misdemeanor.

While too many politicians give lip service to reform, those who really care about justice are doing the work, regardless of electoral consequences. We need more bold, innovative leaders willing to rethink how we achieve safety and accountability, not those who go where the wind blows and spread misinformation for political gain.

Fear should not cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past. When politicians finally decide to care more about protecting people than protecting their own power, only then will we finally achieve the safety that all communities deserve.

Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a former federal prosecutor, and the author of Change from Within: Reimagining the 21st-Century Prosecutor. Alyssa Kress is the communications director of Fair and Just Prosecution.  

More: Wrongful convictions cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Wrongdoing prosecutors must be held accountable.

Plus: Senate votes to block D.C. crime laws, with Biden’s support

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Once a little-known event for locals, this outback challenge attracts racing royalty

In the early 1980s, when the Finke Desert Race was a fledgling off-road event, locals would show up on race day with a single hope: that their motorbike would make it there and back along 230 kilometres of unrefined dirt.

Preparation was often minimal, sleep lacking, and sounds of revelry issued into the night. But it wasn’t of concern, because the Alice Springs riders were just there to make the dust fly.

“There used to be a pub at Finke,” long-time race president Antony Yoffa says.

“The competitors used to have a few ales at the end of a race and then go back the next day, and I’m sure that progressed throughout the 80s.”

As entries open for another Finke, almost 50 years since its inception, the game has changed.

Up to 1,000 riders and drivers are expected to line up at the 2023 Finke Desert Race.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

A bustling centre

Come the Queen’s (now King’s) Birthday long weekend, the small outback town swells to capacity with interstate riders and revheads, basking in the picturesque terrain.

Supermarket shelves are stripped bare, while those in the know collect their “Finke packs” from the local butcher, which they’ve ordered a month in advance.

Racing royalty from around the country set the standard for professionalism.

The likes of Toby Price, a eight-time Finke King of the Desert and two-time Dakar Rally champion, lines up on the same track as the rest of the field.

Two men in car racing suits and caps gesturing 'Number 1'.
Toby Price is an eight-time King of the Desert title in 2022, and set a new record for fastest time on four wheels with his navigator Jason Duncan.(ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin)

More than 10,000 spectators skirt the winding, often corrugated track running along the old Ghan railway to the remote Aboriginal community Finke, also known as Apatula, which marks the halfway point of the two-day race.

Finke for the first time

After years of watching cars, bikes and buggies fly by from the sidelines, Alice Springs local Shane Garfath has thrown his hat into the ring for the first time.

“I’m definitely not podium-worthy, I’m an amateur as far as they come and purely in it for the fun,” he said.

“I’ve camped out and watched it for a long time now, but you get a bit itchy just watching.”

A man stands holding up his motorbike in a shed.
Alice Springs local Shane Garfath is competing in his first Finke Desert Race in 2023.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

Motor sports are not cheap. A new bike, suspension, and protective gear can run up a hefty five-figure bill. That’s before the race entrance fee of $900, a jump from the 2022 price.

But it’s a price Garfath is willing to pay.

“If I can get some sponsorship, that’d be great,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, if it’s coming out of my pocket, I’ll make it work.

“It comes down to wanting to do it.”

The final frontier

As the competition has developed, Finke has developed into a more highly regulated event, combating the Northern Territory’s often-quoted reputation as the nation’s wild west.

In 2021, after a fatal collision between a race vehicle and a group of spectators, the organisers’ hands were forced.

Sandy off-road track with police cars parked nearby.
The site along the Finke Desert Race track where Nigel Harris lost his life.(Supplied: Northern Territory Coroners Court)

Sweeping new safety measures were imposed, including spectator exclusion zones banning onlookers from particularly dangerous parts of the track.

A coronial inquest into the death of Nigel Harris will continue later this year.

The event’s maturation has also seen an evolution of competitors, with a growing number of older riders travelling from interstate for a bucket list trip.

An ageing line-up

For Michael Vroom, former Finke champion and now co-owner at Outback Motorcycle Adventures, the changing landscape has created a business opportunity.

He offers a package for fly-in riders, providing everything from the bike, to food, transport, and camping gear.

A middle-aged man sits in his motorbike workshop.
Mr Vroom says a growing number of older riders from interstate are forking out thousands of dollars to compete.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

“Finke has just continued to grow and grow over many years, to the point now where it’s more of a national event than then a local event,” he said.

“With that comes a lot of competitors, and it brings a lot of people to town.

“It’s not just the motorbike industry, it’s everything around it, and it’s simply a great event for the town.”

Vroom, who grew up with the desert race etched into his calendar, said despite its growth, enthusiasm for riding was waning in the younger generation.

Two men sitting in camp chairs behind flags that say
Spectators were told to stand at least 20 metres from the track, and to keep campsites and fixed structures 30 metres back.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

“That might be a reflection of the economy and all sorts of factors that go beyond just motorcycle riding,” he said.

“It’s expensive — simple as that. With the cost of living and the cost of the event going up, it’s a lot of money and it takes a lot of commitment to take part.

“Eventually, that will have an effect on those that can do the race.”

Looking to a dusty future

In 2026, Finke will mark its 50th anniversary milestone, with plans already underway to bring as many as possible of the 56 riders who competed in the inaugural event back to town.

While entry numbers have dipped slightly this year, President Antony Yoffa believes it will be a near-full field once again come June.

“We’ve almost plateaued with entry numbers in its current format,” he said.

A man on a motorbike taking part in Finke Desert Race.
The Finke Desert Race will return to the Red Centre on June 9-12, 2023.(Supplied: Ryan Scott Young)

“When you have both cars and bikes competing on the same day, daylight is an issue, plus there needs to be a certain amount of separation between each race.

“In the future, if we were to move to separate days, that may allow for more competitors.”

Mr Yoffa, who is serving in his 23rd year on the Finke committee, acknowledged the importance of maintaining local interest in the event for the next generation of revheads.

“This is Christmas for Alice Springs,” he said.

“As long as young Alice Springs riders continue to join the motorcycle club, buy motorbikes locally, and compete locally, the event will continue for some time to come, long after I’ve moved on.”

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