Packaging machines should improve food safety and smart packaging should alleviate the wasteful mentality.Interpack processes and packaging
Speculators focused on agricultural raw materials such as wheat, rice, soybeans and corn. They buy cheap from grain producers and wholesalers and bet on price increases. This is a lucrative business because food is getting scarce. As agricultural products are increasingly used to produce ethanol and droughts reduce harvests, rising prosperity and a growing global population are increasing demand for wheat and other grains.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2050 there will be nine billion people on Earth, two thousand more than today.
But there should be no danger of starvation. “A third of the food produced in the world, about 1.3 billion tons per year, is lost on the way from the farm to the consumer or thrown away,” says Jenny Gustavsson from the Swedish Institute for Food Technology and Biotechnology (SIK). If these losses are reduced by more efficient food processing, hunger will be alleviated.
The results of the study could fundamentally change global nutrition policy. Until now, it was considered necessary to increase food production by 70% by 2050, in order to feed all of humanity. Now there are new goals: “With resources becoming increasingly scarce around the world, it is more efficient to reduce food losses than to increase production,” says Robert von Otterdijk, FAO’s SAVE FOOD manager.
There are many starting points for providing nutrition. Waste occurs throughout the supply chain, starting from agricultural production to household consumption. In the poorest countries of Africa and Asia, the problem is at the beginning of the chain of value creation. According to SIK data, six to eleven kilograms of food per person is lost annually on these continents due to deficiencies in harvesting techniques or because food is not delivered on time from producers to consumers. Due to sometimes extreme weather conditions, fruit and milk spoil, meat is full of dangerous germs and is not for consumption. But even more food is wasted per person in Europe and North America: in industrialized countries, 95 to 115 kilograms per person are thrown away annually, even though it would still be suitable for consumption.
Before throwing away food, consumers don’t think about some things, such as the fact that unnecessary waste fuels hunger in the world’s poorest regions. “Food trade is international. “Whoever wastes money in rich countries affects prices in the rest of the world and contributes to making some products unaffordable in poor areas,” explains Gustavsson. If consumable food is thrown away, it also encourages the consumption of energy and resources. The equation is simple: if one-third of the food produced spoils, one-third of the resources used to produce it, such as water, are also wasted, and one-third more harmful emissions than necessary are released into the atmosphere.
Demands for an immediate change in mentality come from the highest level. “Developed countries need to set clear targets to combat wasteful mentality and energy waste,” says Klaus Töpfer, former head of the UN Environment Program and head of the Ethical Commission for a Secure Energy Supply, which is used by the German federal government. According to him, apart from politics and consumers, the packaging industry has a special obligation to develop solutions within the food value chain together with other sectors.
The packaging sector wants to contribute and is working on new concepts for the production and distribution of packaging machines, as well as on ideas for smart packaging: “For example, measuring the durability of the content through the packaging itself would contribute in the future to “less food that is still always suitable for disposable consumption,” says Christian Traumann, CEO of Multivac, a German packaging machine manufacturer. At the same time, in developing countries, small decentralized solutions could contribute to food security and the fight against hunger.
Alarm in case of bacterial contamination
However, the sector must maintain a difficult balance because it operates in two worlds: while it must convince Nigerian farmers that it is better to pack their raw materials at the point of origin than to travel unprotected, it can only fight against Western indifference to high technology. “Many consumers feel that the expiry date is a condemnation to put away, even though many foods are still fresh after it has expired,” explains Stephan Grünewald of the Rheingold Institute for market and media analysis in Cologne. To alleviate the problem, the industry is trying to find a trick:
For example, it develops time/temperature indicators that permanently report the freshness status of products. BASF already offers so-called “OnVu labels” with a special pigment, which are printed on the packaging. When the content is not for consumption, the color changes.
However, these innovations will only prevail if food groups work together. They occupy a key position between the village and discount facilities: they control the demand of local producers and the supply of food that the consumer chooses. The good news is that some large groups like the Swiss food manufacturer Nestlé have already joined the SAVE FOOD initiative. The group wants to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2015, increase efficiency in packaging and production, as well as greater use of renewable energy. “We want to do business more sustainably and thus reduce world hunger,” says Philippe Roulet, director of global packaging materials and training at Nestlé. To achieve this, the group wants to use, among other things, more bioplastics from non-food sources such as wood or algae as packaging material.
Packaging manufacturers and packaging machinery suppliers support food suppliers in implementing their sustainability strategies. One of the magic expressions is “smart packaging”. Intelligent and active systems show the product’s quality status and can even improve its durability using oxygen absorbers or special acids. These packages help all over the world, so in general it can be said that the longer the food is consumed, the less will be wasted.
The American company Sonoco is a promoter of innovation. It develops packaging with integrated microchips that, through sensors, continuously collect data on the state of the product, such as humidity and temperature. They emit an alarm when programmed threshold values are exceeded or not reached. In addition, the chips can contribute to the security of distribution and fill gaps in logistics, since large amounts of information about goods can be called up or loaded in an instant using radio frequency technology.