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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

The circular economy could transform food packaging as we know it.

Recently, interest in canning has increased. This is perhaps a surprise as canned food is old technology. However, tinned food is the perfect way to consume food then recycle absolutely everything. It has the feel-good factor and consumers are beginning to realise just what amazing technology sits in the ubiquitous, hermetically sealed tin of beans, peaches or salmon. However, the canning industry may well be about to witness an extraordinary revolution. Be prepared for cans with a hole in the middle!

This new development does not mean that tin will be compromised in any way. The can will have an empty space, like a tube which will enable it to be heated from the inside and also the outside. It will certainly bring old tech into the twenty first century.

Photo by Creators Collective

You may not realise, but in conventional cans the middle of the can heats up much more slowly than the outside as it’s being cooked. As a consequence, there is always a danger of spoilage or burning at the 'edge'. Therefore, scientists started to work harder on heat transfer rates and came up with a ‘toroid’ can that has the aforementioned ‘hole’ in the middle.

The process started with preserving pineapple but with further tweaks vegetables have now been successfully tested. During the experiments more liquid ingredients such as purees and soups behaved very well. In fact, the heating time using these new cans was cut by half – good for fuel use and the environment and great for driving down production costs. Not only this but the flavour improved too. This is good news for recycling as we all do our bit to cut waste without compromising on taste.

Nestle joins the sustainable plastics race

In addition, the food giant, Nestle has made the decision to explore packaging made of food-grade recycling plastics. Up until now only virgin plastics have been used for their food, although the company had promised to produce 100% recycled or reusable packaging materials back in 2018.

Nestle’s plan is to speed up their innovation plans regarding sustainable packaging. In addition, they want 2025 to be a watershed where their packaging becomes 100 per cent recyclable or reusable. In the meantime, their aim is to reduce virgin plastics by 33 percent. Nestle’s interest extends to further accelerating the circular economy and also do their bit to clean up waterways and oceans of plastic waste.

The issue regarding packaging and also the reduction of plastics, used in the process, has always been compromising food safety and also waste. We may well complain about cucumbers wrapped in plastic or plastic boxes encasing soft fruit but without them lots more of our foodstuffs would go to compost or just be dumped in landfill. Would a reduction in plastics actually help? In addition, because food grade plastics are so notoriously difficult to recycle there is actually a world shortage of these materials making sourcing problematic.

What is the solution, therefore? Nestle feels that a financial incentive may well transform the availability of food grade plastics suitable for food use. So, they have said they will take as much as 2 million metric tonnes of food grade recycled plastics for a good price. This means they are actually offering a premium for suppliers to develop these shortage items.

Photo Josh Appel

Does this mean we will pay more for Nestle goods?

Nestle has suggested that operational efficiencies will compensate. However, who will provide the recycled plastics? Veolia UK & Ireland are key players in this niche, and they are prepared to invest if demand rises. Governmental intervention may also help as the landfill tax has prompted far more plastic recycling all round.

As consumers start making more ethical decisions about what they buy and how it’s made many more companies will be forced to look at every aspect of their production, packaging and all points between. This is important as ethics are an increasing aspect of consumer choice. Also, if we are going to up our game with relation to being waste free going forward then the big companies are going to have to play their part. Once again this is where experienced, creative and agile staff will play a significant part in the transformation of food packaging in the future

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