WASHINGTON – An estimated 80 billion lbs of food is wasted every year in the United States, but the use of smart packaging can help reduce this, according to Richard Freundlich, executive director of supply chains with Rabobank.

Speaking on April 12 at the North American Meat Institute’s virtual Meat Industry Summit, Freundlich said this waste equates to about $219 per person or $1,600 per family. Additionally, 335,000 tons of food is wasted annually during manufacturing, and 155,000 tons of this is preventable and caused by factors such as biocontamination or mislabeling.

Packaging is related to some of this waste as food in larger packages is more likely to be discarded after opening, Freundlich said. Given this, the industry is looking at how to use packaging to be part of the food waste solution.

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, active packaging specifically refers to the ability of the package to interact with its environment, often through controlling the amount of UV light, oxygen, or moisture exposure to the food inside. This increased ability of the packaging to interact with and control the environment can extend shelf life and reduce food waste.

Intelligent packaging refers to communication with the world outside the package, perhaps through giving consumers information on temperature, freshness, or any potential exposure the food had to microbes. It can also be used to provide a link to automation using barcodes, QR codes, or even augmented reality to enhance the consumer experience.

“Intelligent packaging can be used to reduce food waste,” Freundlich said. “We are seeing a digital revolution where connected packaging is being used more and more.”

Given consumers’ current concerns about food safety during the pandemic, on-package indicators of potential exposure to microbes are certainly in demand.

“(Smart packaging) can ultimately increase shelf life, improve quality and provide on-demand information,” Freundlich said. “It enhances the brand connection and gives loyalty to the customer.”

Overall, he said many smaller brands are using such packaging to differentiate products in the market and gain acceptance.

With all the new technology going into packaging, companies are also looking to combine this with sustainable packaging materials. Freundlich said there are not any industry discussions surrounding packaging that do not involve sustainability, and new technologies such as advanced recycling are being used.

Freundlich also discussed Blockchain as a method of monitoring food waste, and while it is not the only way to monitor waste, it is the most secure. However, he said the industry has been slow to adopt this trend.

He said the trend toward smart packaging will continue to grow in the future. The global smart packaging market was valued at $2.57 billion in 2013 and is expected to reach $5.66 billion in 2024.