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Nanotech packaging can cut food waste, say experts

By David Eldridge
Posted 30 June 2010
The use of nanotechnology in packaging can help the UK reduce the huge amount of food it wastes, a seminar in London was told on Tuesday.

The Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum’s event on food and packaging waste brought together stakeholders from government departments, business, universities and NGOs to discuss what to do about the 8.3 million tonnes of food thrown away by consumers every year.

Dr Kathy Groves of Leatherhead Food Research said use of nanotechnology, such as nanoclays, “can make a big difference” by making packaging lighter, stronger and better at preserving food for longer.

Other attributes that Groves hopes nanotechnology will bestow on packaging include degradability, smart filtering of allergens and free radicals, and hygienic coatings. Already in production are intelligent sensors which indicate whether the contents have spoilt, which Groves said “will prove to be very useful as they give a more scientific basis to the sell-by date”.

Dr Alan Smith of consultancy group AZ-Tech said nanotechnology is already being used in many consumer applications, such as automotive parts. In packaging, he cited Nanocor’s work with Mitsubishi on nanomaterials used as a gas barrier in beer bottles.

Answering a question about the safety of nanotechnology, Smith said there are numerous examples of nanostructures in the natural world to which people are exposed without any ill effects. Groves said that UK government tests on nanotech packaging showed no release of nanoparticles, which are embedded within the polymer system.

Recyclability was another concern raised and Smith’s response was that nanoclays are used in such small quantities that they did not pose a problem in the recycling chain. Groves said the situation with nanostarch and nanocellulose was not clear cut and more research was needed.

A key driver for growth of nanotechnology in packaging, said Groves, will be producers being able to reduce costs and increase availability of materials.

The seminar was wide ranging and, as well as packaging, covered consumer education, anaerobic digestion plants for composting, and reduction of waste in the supply chain.

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