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The Future of Packaging

by Eric Stefan Kandelin Koons
June 26, 2019

The opinions of consumers in the United States and Europe will have a large effect on shaping the future of food packaging. In the U.S. over 50% of people say that one of the most important factors for packaging is convenience. Additionally, over 90% of people believe that healthy eating habits are important to having a long life, 70% of people try to eat healthy every meal, and 60% of people realize when they aren’t eating healthy and would like to improve [1]. This increased awareness of how food and health are related is a big change from the fast food obsessed USA of the past. These trends will undoubtedly influence food packaging as consumers continue to look for convenient and healthy food options.

One of the main things packaging producers will need to consider are ways to make healthy and fresh products have a longer shelf life. Americans and Europeans often associate healthy food with fresh products. Products like fresh fruits and vegetables typically have relatively short lifespans and will need to be packaged in ways that make them more reliable [3]. Another important consumer trend to consider is sustainable and green/eco packaging. In the last 10 years the general public has become much more informed about environmental change. Topics like global warming, habitat destruction, and pollution are commonly discussed on the news and in everyday life [2]. These ideas have already altered and will continue to influence consumer desire of wanting packaging that is better for the environment. To meet this demand packaging producers should make more sustainable products and will need to market packaging as environmentally friendly.

There is a lot of research being done to meet these trends and to generally improve food packaging. One of the biggest new ideas being researched and already slowly being put into practice is nanocomposite packaging. Nanocomposites are made of polymers that are between 1-100 nm in size. Typically a few types of polymers are interconnected using a ‘glue’ agent to hold them together based on their chemical properties. These compounds have many advantageous properties and nanocomposites already being used have multiple key assets, like flexibility, strength, and antimicrobial properties. As research continues the possibilities are huge because of the large variety of polymers and chemicals that can be combined in unique ways. It is expected that eventually nanocomposites will be able to provide a single film with all of the properties we deem to important for packaging. Additionally, they could eventually include an array if properties we don’t even commonly think of yet, like being self-healing if damaged, changing shape/size based on contents, and having a long lifetime when needed but degrading quickly when discarded [4,5].

Another area of research is active and intelligent food packaging. These are forms of packaging that sense changes in the environment, manipulate them to more desirable conditions, and store/communicate the information to consumers. Products like moisture absorbers and time-temperature indicators already do this on a basic level. As intelligent packaging evolves it will dramatically increase convenience and food safety. There is currently research being done into designing self-cooking packaging, biosensors indicating microbial growth, and appliance integrated packaging that automatically conveys cooking information to ovens [6]. Research in this area will help link package design and new computer/internet technology.

In terms of sustainability there is a large push towards using products that can break down quickly or be reused. This means using  products made from biodegradable materials or metals. In general a lot of this technology is already present and research is more focused on find ways to produce them at cheaper costs. Materials like cellulose from plants, chitosan from shells, and starch are at the forefront of these biodegradable, natural packages. They come from naturally occurring compounds that can be slightly altered to meet specific packaging needs [7]. Tinplate and aluminum have been staples in the packaging industry for many years, but are being used more often in recent years. Research is focused on streamlining the recycling and production process.

The future of food packaging is slowly coming to reality. We now have packaging that self regulates temperature, includes QR codes to connect products and technology, and is made of natural compounds. These improvements are just the beginning in each of their respective fields. In the next 15 to 20 years there could be big changes to the food packaging industry.

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References

[1] "Public views about Americans’ eating habits (2016)" , by Pew Research Center.

[2] "Consumers’ Behavior Concerning Sustainable Packaging: An Exploratory Study on Romanian Consumers(2018)", by Gheorghe Orzan, Anca Francisca Cruceru , Cristina Teodora  and Raluca-Giorgiana Chivu.

[3]"Packaging & our Food System in the Future (2006)", by John D. Floros.

[4]  "Nanocomposites in Food Packaging Applications and Their Risk Assessment for Health (2016)” , by Zohreh Honarvar,1 Zahra Hadian, and Morteza Mashayekh.

[5]"Polymer/inorganic nanocomposites:Opportunities for Opportunities for food packaging applications food packaging applications (2006)" ,by Evangelos Manias.

[6]  “State of the art of active/intelligent food packaging (2006) ”, by Aaron L. Brody.

[7]  “Eat Your Food, and the Package Too (2018)"  , by  Elizabeth Royte.

Topics: Metal Packaging, Sustainability