Entry for:2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
Food packaging is causing significant ecological and social negative impacts. In 2016, the world generated 242 million tones of plastic waste and by 2050 the plastic industry will account for 20% of total oil consumption and it will be responsible for 15% of global annual carbon budget. The food sector is the largest single-use market accounting for 35% of the global packaging industry.
Using system dynamics modelling, my research explores the factors driving the use of
food packaging in modern food systems. To go beyond recycling schemes and the discovery of new sustainable (single-use) materials, the system approach adopted integrates a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the variables.
The goal is to understand how to transition from packaging intensive food systems towards zero-packaging food systems. Analysing globalisation, supermarkets and family dynamics the model will try to find which leverage points would shift the system towards a post-growth sustainable food sector.
In Queensland the local government sent 340,000 tonnes of paper and packaging (cardboard and glass, plastic, steel and aluminium containers) for recovery in 2017–18, which represented an increase from the previous year. Local governments in South East Queensland cover 70.2% of the state’s population and have been responsible for 78.7% of packaging plastics. Most of packaging comes from the beverage and food sector and although these problems exist in Queensland, in the current globalised world, food systems need to be studied with a holistic approach. At a Federal level, the Government works closely with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to implement the 2017 – 2022 strategic plan to avoid and minimise the use of packaging.
The insights that will emerge from the system dynamics model of my research could be translated into policies and interventions that reduce food packaging. Decision makers and key negotiators could formulate policies based on the findings of the system that would enable the implementation effective solutions to reduce food packaging.
In addition to the implementation of policy regulations, the findings of this study might be able to provide new sustainable business strategies for the private sector. This could enable food institutions to transition to new food systems that respect the social and ecological limits of this planet. It would also allow communities across the world to start or implement zero-packaging food systems.
I’ve always been passionate about science. While studying the bachelor in Biology and the master in Environmental Economics, I’ve always tried to engage and share my passion and interest with the broader community. For example, between 2012 and 2014, as a volunteer I wrote for a newspaper in Switzerland about scientific topics, such as the impacts GMO crops and Cells dynamics. In 2013, I’ve been honoured to teach sustainable development to children, as part of the Green Map Project. As a volunteer, I also taught science to children in Kenya (Ticino Kenya Youth Education School) and Mexico (Ecological Centre of Akumal). Always between 2012-2014 at the University of Geneva, with other students, we created the AGEDD, an organisation that aimed at educating and implementing sustainability projects. After engaging with local authorities, university stakeholders and the student community, with the AGEDD team we implemented a large recycling scheme for plastic bottles in all the buildings of the campus.
STEM research is fundamental to guide practical solutions in society. After the strong evidence for plastic bags pollution in Queensland, collaborating directly with former Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles we achieved a law to ban single-use plastic bags in Queensland. This is just one example showing the power of research and of good governance based on scientific findings.
In recent years, my focus has been on public speaking (i.e. TEDx, 3 Minute Thesis) in order to achieve a higher audience. The focus remains to engage in STEM research and motivate people not only to undertake STEM studies, but also to get informed and apply the results of science!