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The packaging industry helps to counter food waste
The packaging industry helps to counter food waste
The nature of a product depends on how a person intended to use it. Despite the controversies over the use of plastics, the material might actually help to create a sustainable world. The Save Food campaign, initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation (UN) and Messe Düsseldorf, highlighted the importance of the packaging sector, a major consumer of plastics, to minimize food waste.

According to the FAO of the UN, there will be nine billion people living in the world by 2050. Food is becoming scarcer and scarcer, as arable produce being used increasingly for fuel production and harvests being cut by droughts. Rising affluence and world population growth are also increasing demand for wheat and other cereals.

The Save Food campaign estimated that one third of food produced around the world, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons, is lost in transportation. It has always been considered necessary to boost food production by 70% by 2050 in order to feed everyone. Now, new goals apply, "With limited natural resources, it is more effective to reduce food losses than to increase production," said Robert von Otterdijk, FAO Officer for Save Food.

Food is wasted right across the supply chain, starting with agricultural production through to consumption at home. In the low-income countries of Africa and Asia, the problem lies at the start of the value chain. According to Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK), 6 to 11 kg of food is lost per capita per year owing to shortcomings in harvesting techniques or because food doesn"t reach the consumer in time. Far more food is wasted per head of population in Europe and North America. In the industrialized nations, 95 to 115 kg of food still fit for consumption is thrown away per person per year.

Large food corporations, like the Swiss food manufacturer Nestlé, have already joined the Save Food campaign. Nestlé wanted to cut its emissions by 20% by 2015 through improving efficiency in packaging and production and making greater use of renewable energy.

"We want to do business more sustainably and thus alleviate hunger in the world," said Philippe Roulet, Head of Global Packaging Materials & Training at Nestlé. The group aims to use, among other things, more bioplastics from non-food sources such as wood or algae as packaging materials.

Packaging manufacturers are supporting food suppliers with new technology known as "Smart packaging". These are intelligent and active systems that indicate the product"s state of quality and, armed with oxygen absorbers or special acids in polymer, are even capable of helping foods to stay fresh for longer.

BASF is offering so-called OnVu labels printed on the package. This time-temperature indicator comes with a special pigment color that changes when the contents are no longer fit to eat.

Sonoco, meanwhile, has developed packages with integrated microchips that, via sensors, constantly gather information on the state of a product such as moisture and temperature. It will set off an alarm when values move outside programmed upper or lower limits. These chips can also improve distribution security and uncover gaps in the supply chain by enabling huge quantities of data on goods to be upload or downloaded at high speed.

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) is developing advanced packaging materials. "We integrate oxygen absorbers such as iron in the polymer matrix of the packaging material," said IVV Researcher Sven Sängerlaub. PET bottles prepared in this way can help oxygen-sensitive beverages like beer and fruit juices stay drinkable for longer. In addition, the IVV has developed an antimicrobial film that releases sorbic acid onto the surface of the food, the point of attack for contamination, and thus preserves it.

The industries have been putting efforts in saving the world. Ultimately, it will be up to the consumers to change their habits or not.
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