How packaging can help cut food waste

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Here's a scary fact. Did you know close to half of the food produced in the world doesn't reach its intended destination?

 

Somewhere along the supply chain, it ends up as waste, and it's primarily blamed on poor packaging. Apart from the wastage, this loss impacts energy use, which is needed to grow, transport, and store these foods.

Experts say there has been a shift towards consumers wanting ease and convenience when they shop for food. Plus, there's been a drop in people cooking at home. Many are relying on packaged meals, takeaways, or restaurant meals. It requires packaging innovation to find ways to prevent spoilage, can extend the shelf life of foods as well as design changes that allow for total consumption. If these are explored adequately, it's estimated that 280,000 tons of food waste can be diverted.

A slippery business

With governments globally banning unsustainable packaging use, the time is right for innovation and technological development in this space. An exciting example of this is the development of a super slippery packaging innovation by scientists. It allows customers to remove all the food in the container or packaging. Think about those last few drops of ketchup in the bottle? Or, the wasted jam in a jar. Now you can squeeze out every last drop of sticky foods that are trapped in their packaging. They may seem like small amounts, but add them up over a year, and this slight shift could have a sizable impact if it’s taken up globally.   

The new industrial packaging technique was revealed in the journal Scientific Reports. It has opened up a new way for wicking chemically compatible vegetable oils into the surfaces of plastics. It helps sticky foods be released from the packaging with ease. It's also encouraging that it can be applied to conventional plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene. This means it needn’t be an expensive solution for manufacturers. These types of plastics make up over half of those used in the manufacturing industry today. Before, ‘slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces’ (SLIPS) have only been used with silicones and polymers,  which are prohibitively expensed for many.  

There have been some previous successes with SLIPS that would hold the oils, but they only worked when the surface was prepared with a rough texture, which also has a cost attached that made it unfeasible. The new method doesn’t need any surface roughness. The oils have proven to be compatible with the plastics, and wick into the plastic naturally. 

The surfaces used on materials for this new technique are very slippery, and they're also self-cleaning. They can be used in various applications, including food packaging and the pharmaceutical industry. The team has explored using natural oils like cottonseed oil. This will put health concerns to rest. The surfaces infused with oil also naturally resist bacteria growth.  

The future of packaging

So what else is on the frontier of packaging that will help reduce food waste? Here are some of the packaging trends that we expect to see in the future that will have an impact on food wastage:

Active packaging.
This is packaging that is designed to preserve food for longer. It could make the environment hostile for microorganisms that cause food to decay or contain antimicrobial agents.

Vacuum packaging.
This is also a space saver. It removes the air from the packaging before it is sealed. When oxygen is removed from the environment around the food, it is less habitable for microorganisms. It prevents meat oxidizing, freezer burn, and dehydration too. Modified atmosphere packaging is another offshoot of this technique. In this case, food is packaged with a unique concentration of gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen). It helps to preserve the food. The benefit of this is that the concentrations of the gas can be adjusted for each product.

Intelligent packaging.
A lot of food is wasted because consumers are nervous about eating food once the packaging has been opened. A ‘use by' date can give guidance, but it's not foolproof. Intelligent packaging makes use of a patch of smart plastic. It changes color as the surrounding conditions change. It can be used to show how long packaging has been open. It can also be used in the transportation of food to monitor the status of items. It would mean less food is discarded on delivery.  

Snap-pack packaging.
Families have got a lot smaller over time, and many people live alone compared to the past. However, foods such as meat are still packaged with large families in mind. It means if you have a small household, you often have to throw away unused food. Split seal or peel-able seal packaging allows consumers to use portions of packaged products and still leave other items enclosed in sealed packaging for later use.

Phil Edwards

Phil Edwards is an outreach specialist for Melbpack. The company is now run by his son Shaun Bryce who has been with the company 14 Years and is backed by an experienced team of staff with over 80 years combined experience in the packaging Industry.

https://www.melbpack.com.au/

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