Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.

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VEHA - Field Implementation Guidance

Food Security
Food Availability
Food quality, appropriateness and acceptability
Packaging of food-aid commodities

Packaging of food-aid commodities


Environmental factors causing/contributing to the needs and affecting the humanitarian activity

The ways in which different types of assistance materials are packaged, transported, and stored significantly impact the quantity and type of packaging needed.

In general food distribution for cooking results in a lot of packaging waste and littering which causes pollution to air, water, and soil, and ultimately leads to disease spread amongst the flora, fauna, and humans.

Food kits for people migrating on foot (walkers) often contain large amounts of packaging and the waste left behind by walkers is often remarked upon by communities with some resentment.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Involving at-risk groups into recycling activities could help to empower them by being drivers of change and having a positive environmental impact.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Natural Resource depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Water sources and soil can be affected by accumulation of waste and spills from piled wasted items. Also, accumulation of packaging, containers and bottles may result in contamination of waters sources and end up in rivers, lakes and the ocean. This can lead to disease spread.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Delivery of items can have negative effects on the environment if activities are not well planned or the needs and behaviour of individuals and communities are not appropriately assessed. When delivered items do not match with the cultural particularities of affected communities, items may be unused and may pile. When items are used but the resulting waste is not properly managed, waste accumulates in places that have limited recycling capabilities. Wasted items are often disposed of locally by open burning, causing air pollution. Piling of solid waste food packaging can harbour disease vectors.


Summary of suggested environmental activities

Assess the type of packaging used for distributed food. Consolidate and streamline distribution to reduce transportation needs, improve warehousing efficiency, and ultimately reduce the quantity of packaging used.

Consider environmentally friendly (e.g. biodegradable) and/or reusable packaging alternatives.

Develop Clean up strategy and initiatives to handle plastic waste and other recyclable items.

Amend procurement contracts to require suppliers to reduce packaging and make the packaging re-usable / recyclable or compostable.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

During consultations, stakeholders have proposed minimizing waste through packaging food in kits – which involve packaging various components of a set as one unit versus individual units.

Use minimal packaging (biodegradable where possible) and locally appropriate materials, if possible by promoting a partnership with the local government and packaging material manufacturers. Provide food receptacles that can be reused, recycled, or re-appropriated. Consider new technologies, such as hermetically sealed packaging to reduce the need for pesticide usage.

Dispose of waste packaging in a way that prevents environmental degradation. Ready-to-use food packaging, such as foil wrappers, may require specific controls for safe disposal. Where litter occurs, organise regular community clean-up campaigns. These campaigns should be part of community mobilisation and awareness-raising, rather than as cash-for-work.

When food packaging strictly needs to be done without requiring re-measuring or repacking, make sure that a plan for handling packaging waste is in place, and those recycling capacities are assessed.

Amend procurement contracts to require suppliers to reduce packaging and make the packaging re-usable / recyclable or compostable.


Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

The UNHRD Lab is working on an initiative called “give the packaging a second chance,” which seeks to find ways to repurpose items that are shipped in their operations. To date, the initiative includes investigating how to turn PP bags into backpacks and reusing packaging from family tents and kitchen sets to create cradles for children and solar cookers.
Examples from refugee camps in which polywoven bags were repurposed to grow plants.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Percentage of people re-using repurposing packaging for income generation or other use, preventing possible environmental damage.

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Consultation time, identifying local counterpart for recycling options

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