In her blog, Lauren writes how she had an epiphany about the impact one has on the environment. After careful calculation, she vowed living a zero-waste or a waste free life. One of the ways she chose to do it is by “exchanging plastic Tupperware for glass or mason jars”. She’s not the only one. Recently, the trend for zero-waste and it’s concentration on food packaging has started a new trend, which in turn impacts the global food and beverages industry.

We talked to Natasha D’Costa, Expert on Food Industry, Frost & Sullivan, about the changing scenario.

Excerpts:

Sachi: Even though food wastage globally is very serious issue, the technology is leaning towards the development of food packaging. What pushed this change?

Natasha: Food packaging has made a lot of industry-players sweat. Waste is inevitable, but we can always try to control the amount and type of waste. Food packaging plays a huge role in it. On one hand, it is responsible for preserving food to reduce wastage. On the other, packaging can create environmental degradation and climate change. There is thus a need for technology and new innovations to intervene and provide relief. We’re talking about packaging that’s made out of environmentally friendly materials and recyclable and while this is not new, the technology invested and the ideas to make it are.

Sachi: Can you expand further on it? What kind of packaging are there?

Natasha: Sustainable packaging is trending as an alternative to traditional plastic packaging. Hybrid, smart and intelligent packaging are a few examples. Hybrid packaging uses bio-based, resorbable materials that are also recyclable. On a efficiency front , it even reduces or eliminates unnecessary costs and improves food safety, which is one of the major drivers for calls for better packaging today. No surprise then that it is being actively sought after in todays ready-to-eat food product market.

Innovations like Grab Box from Coveris, EVLON® – a compostable PLA (polylactide) packaging film, and EarthCoating® platform by Smart Planet Technologies are new into this field. If they take measured steps, they’ll go a long way.

Sachi: But how long before they enter the daily life? How urgent is it to remove plastic?

Natasha: An unbelievable 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year , which is one third of all the food that we produce, generating 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In the US, 80 percent of available landfill sites have plummeted all this while statistics show that in the developed nations food packaging waste, can be as high as 220 Kilos per person per year.

So yes, it’s urgent. But replacing plastic is a challenge. Plastic packaging is cost-effective to manufacturers and vendors, and even to consumers, so sustainable packaging needs to have a strong game to push the rivals out.

Sachi: How will smart labeling fare compared to hybrid packaging?

Natasha: Smart labeling is about optimising the materials that makes the food package. It ranges from color-changing labels, temperature sensors, near-field communication (NFC) in packaging, and freshness indicators. These features are expected to alert the users to be smart about the consumption time and hour, eventually reducing the food waste.

Sachi: So food waste lies in the heart of such innovations as much as environmental impacts?

Natasha: We need to consider how food production is laborious work not only in terms of the manpower that has to be invested, but even on natural resources. Agriculture requires close to 70 percent of the world’s water resources. Fertilizers require fossil fuels, compromising oil production and affecting its market value. Meat production influences grain prices and land value. So you see how we need to decrease food waste.

Sachi: When you talk of packaging, what role do you think responsive packaging will play in the near future?

Natasha: Responsive packaging is the most innovative trend that is there. Instead of focusing on the materials used for food packaging, it looks for different reactions that cause food deterioration – oxidation, moisture gain/loss, microbial growth, enzymatic browning, and non-enzymatic browning. Though its uptake hasn’t been as explosive as hybrid packaging, research is underway for further development and its concept is groundbreaking. Different agents responsible for its development are already looking at those five different reactions and rapidly working on it.

These companies are looking at significant determinants, like cross-contamination, among others, for an effective implementation. The main goal is to restrict the food reaction in a controlled manner, to eventually reduce and eliminate food waste.

Sachi: What does it mean for the future?

Natasha: The developers’ enthusiasm and urgency at evolving such technologies coupled with the consumer awareness is about to change the path of food packaging and design. This will undoubtedly bring a positive change to our environment and us.


Natasha Telles D’Costa is an expert on Food Industry with Frost & Sullivan. She is based out of New Zealand and can be reached at natasha.dcosta@frost.com


Sachi Mulmi is a researcher with Frost & Sullivan. She can be reached at sachi.mulmi@frost.com