The fight against plastic and food waste can’t be won unless we find viable alternatives. Step forward smart packaging, which can keep food fresh for longer and is more environmentally friendly. Our guest, Simon Lee, founder of food freshness technology company It’s Fresh!, explains how it works…
With increased scrutiny on packaging and waste in food production and consumption, it is no wonder that discussions within the Which? Community and beyond are questioning the necessity and carbon footprint of the packaging that stores so much of the fresh produce we consume.
We love to eat food from all over the world, and with this comes the need for it to stay fresher for longer. It needs to withstand long journeys that sometimes take several weeks, as well as the time spent on supermarket and fridge shelves.
There is no silver bullet for reducing food wastage and packaging can play a vital part when used in smart ways. Real change relies on industry-wide backing of innovative technologies as well as better education and greater responsibility for the produce we consume.
A key part of fresh produce waste is caused by natural ripening and spoilage in the supply chain, accelerated by ‘ethylene’ – the ripening hormone released by fruits and vegetables. This stimulates other fresh produce nearby to ripen as well, starting a chain reaction.
Creating packaging that controls the environment of produce is therefore vital in preserving our food for longer.
The need to develop technologies to tackle this is being helped by a growing tide of ‘smart packaging’.
One example is the discrete paper-like filter we developed at It’s Fresh!, and used by the supermarket chain Morrisons. It is placed inside the packaging of fruit and veg, and absorbs the ethylene that is released. This slows down the ripening process naturally, extending quality and freshness, enabling the produce to last a little longer and travel further without compromise.
Another is Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) – packaging that creates a controlled environment for perishable products such as meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, by carefully regulating the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the pack. This extends shelf life without adding chemical preservatives and inhibits the growth of bacteria. It demonstrates the difference packaging can make in reducing waste throughout the supply chain.
Bio-based plastic alternatives are also gaining media and industry traction, with large companies keen to explore greener packaging options. In 2017, Ikea announced it was exploring the use of a fungus-based biodegradable packaging – which has been found to biodegrade within weeks – as an alternative to polystyrene.
Reuse or lose
Recycling is also something of an issue for many of us, and the recycling infrastructure in the UK varies hugely across councils.
Government plans to introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme could help British consumers take more responsibility for their recyclable packaging. Similar schemes have already proved successful in other countries, especially in Sweden, where more than 90% of household waste is recycled.
As was written recently in The Grocer: ‘It’s all very well declaring a war on plastic, but unless we can find viable alternatives, the war will only end in defeat.’
Ultimately, increased use of packaging innovations, such as those mentioned, coupled with a robust closed-loop system of recycling, should be the goal; and just to be clear, nothing is truly recycled until it is reused.
This is a guest post by Simon Lee. All views expressed here are Simon’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Would you like to see more retailers adopt smart packaging or have you seen or heard about new innovations in packaging? Is it something you’d be happy to pay more for?