Dutch use 26 billion plastic food packages per year

People in the Netherlands use 26 billion pieces of plastic food packaging per year - 1,500 pieces of plastic per Dutch person per year, or four per day, according to a study by ING Economic Bureau. And plastic consumption continues to grow along with the population, increasing by around 100 million pieces of packaging every year, NOS reports.

Food is also increasingly packed in plastic. Think of convenience products like ready-made meals, pre-processed fresh products such as sliced and washed salads and vegetables, and portions for single-person households. Unprocessed fruit and vegetables are also increasingly wrapped in plastic. In 2014, 70 percent of unprocessed vegetables were sold packaged, in 2018 it was 76 percent. For fruit it increased from 56 to 60 percent. 

Plastic is the most used packaging material. And that makes sense, because it is light, flexible and cheap. It contributes to the shelf life of consumable products, ensures food safety and is easy to transport and to use. On the other hand, plastic packaging is a massive and growing environmental problem and the main source of litter.

ING calls the plastic problem a puzzle that consumers, businesses and government have to solve together. Consumers must want to use less packaging, the government must regulate the use of plastic, and food producers and retailers must reduce the use of plastic and improve their packaging. "Plastic packaging has its shortcomings. However, completely renouncing it brings new practical problems", Ceel Elemans of ING said to NOS. "For many fresh foods there are hardly any alternative that can compete with food safety, shelf life, functionality and price. Reducing the amount of new plastic required is therefore the most effective step now."

The food sector itself can take a major step by using lighter packaging, according to ING. For example, using foil instead of plastic lids, holes in the packaging, and no longer packaging individual products. The sector can also focus on reusing plastic more, and using plastic that is easier to recycle. 

Unilever recently announced its intention to halve its plastic packaging use worldwide in the next five years, from 700 million kilos to 350 million kilos per year. 

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