Sustainability and packaging expert Nina Goodrich of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition speaks out about a new packaging development that could be a game-changer for food packaging shelf life and sustainability.
In my past roles in research and development (R&D), I learned that it’s vital to keep food product, food processing and food packaging technologies in mind because a change in any one of these areas can become a great opportunity for innovation in the others. I was recently struck by the potential of a new recycling barrier packaging technology and a new food processing technology to set the stage for significant innovation.
New recyclable barrier films and pouches using Dow's Retain technology are the first barrier flexible packages designed with recycling in mind. Up until now, a brand using flexible packaging as part of its sustainability commitment has had to choose between a low carbon footprint from the use of lightweight flexible materials or the ability to recycle the packaging.
For the first time there is a barrier flexible pouch that has a viable recycling strategy. These new pouches can be recycled with other polyethylene (PE) films and bags at grocery store drop-off locations.
That’s significant in itself, but I believe this new packaging option combined with up-and-coming high-pressure processing (HPP) food processing technology creates a real sustainable packaging innovation opportunity.
HPP has started to grow exponentially in the fresh refrigerated market. It started with products like guacamole and salsas that suffered quality degradation from heat processing. It has now grown to include natural meat products, pet foods, sauces, meal packs, soups and chowders, dips, entrees and juices. The process uses a high-pressure cold water bath to reduce microorganisms. And because the products are processed in the package, post-process contamination can be eliminated. Flexible packaging works especially well with this process.
Food waste in the U.S. is a huge issue. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to reducing food waste in the U.S. by 50% by 2030. Extending the shelf life of fresh processed products helps reduce food waste in a number of ways:
• HPP eliminates the need for preservatives in many products and increases the shelf life significantly.
• Products that used to last a few days can now be safe to eat for weeks. The products do need to be refrigerated because the spores of the microorganisms are not eliminated. Refrigeration also extends shelf life but the longer the shelf life the more likely a barrier package will be needed to keep out oxygen.
• Fresh, healthy foods can be safely stored longer in barrier packaging.
I believe that these two innovations combined (package and process) may lead to many new sustainable innovations. This is a huge step towards the circular economy for flexible packaging and a significant opportunity to reduce food waste.
Nina Goodrich, director, Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and executive director, GreenBlue, came to GreenBlue with an industry background in R&D, innovation and sustainability strategy. She believes that innovation and sustainability are linked as key drivers for our future.