Innovation in agriculture has transformed the industry over the past few decades to be more productive and sustainable. In the face of global challenges, sustainability is no longer a distant thought, but rather a necessity among agriculture companies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported a $2.8 billion dollar investment in projects to encourage more focus on sustainability projects. As the industry and agriculture experts work to incorporate sustainable practices, many companies are taking a scientific approach to sustainability. One area of focus in this endeavor is packaging solutions for agricultural products that minimize waste and environmental impact. Let’s discuss some of the ways innovations are bolstering sustainability within the agricultural packing industry.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a report in 2019 stating the value chain uses 37.3 million tonnes of plastic products in food packaging. The push for using less plastic and alternative packaging is important to innovators and agriculture experts across the world. Packaging made from biodegradable materials minimizes waste as these products break down naturally. One innovation in this area involves using casein, which is a milk protein in food packaging. Casein is biodegradable, extends the shelf life of products, and if it comes directly into contact with food, it is considered safe.
Reducing food waste with intentional packaging design provides many benefits to all stakeholders and consumers within the agriculture industry. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that food and packing containers account for almost 45% of landfill materials in the United States. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition gives six recommendations to help companies prevent food waste with packaging design. One of these recommendations includes a food-saving technology referred to as active and intelligent packaging. Often used to keep meat and produce fresh for a longer period of time, this innovation utilizes ethylene absorption, sensors to communicate shelf life and moisture absorption.
The power of big data and artificial intelligence provides a promising future for reducing food waste and environmental impact. Other startup companies like One Third prevent food waste through food scanners and cloud-based software to predict shelf life. These types of technologies help growers, distributors and retailers make informed decisions when purchasing and distributing products. Through dynamic pricing, companies like Wasteless use AI-powered pricing using screens to display pricing on items. Closer expiration dates may have lower prices, which could incentivize consumers to purchase those items first. Wasteless reports reduced food waste and increased revenue for stores that utilize their technology.
Ultimately, minimizing food waste reduces negative environmental impacts and provides cost savings all around. Bringing innovations and technologies to market does not come without its challenges. Agriculture experts work with innovators, farmers, ranchers and producers around the world through product development, market development and business development to bring such innovations to commercialization. Innovations in packing materials and technologies that help minimize food waste are part of a more resilient food system.