THE important role nanotechnology will play in the packaging of the future was argued recently by biotechnologist Christoph Meili on the website swissinfo.ch (the International Service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation).
When asked what additional properties nanotechnology might confer upon packaging, Meili suggested that it might be possible to use it to extend the shelf life of food, and that the amount and quality of information on packaging will also increase, offering details such as whether the food is still edible or if there is oxygen present in the packaging, for example. He also looked forward to the development of better biodegradable packaging.
Nanotechnology might be used to introduce anti-microbial properties to packaging (via things like nanoparticles, essential oils or wasabi-coated film); or gas-barrier properties (i.e. “nanoclay” layers to better seal PET plastic bottles). Other possibilities he spoke of included brand protection via nano-scale barcodes made of nano-silver or gold particles. There is also the potential for environmentally-friendly packaging via biodegradable natural polymer compounds or nano-sized starches made from corn.
Another question was: are there any smart alternatives to packaging so that we use less in the future? “Edible packaging is something on our radar screens. On the other hand it’s important for consumers to be able to differentiate clearly between the product and the packaging,” he said. “Compostable or biodegradable packaging would be a major step forward. I have my doubts whether this could also be edible. But a product without packaging would be the very best solution.”
Meili also seemed optimistic for nanotechnology’s potential to help reduce the amount of food thrown away, via things like smart packaging (which might measure the condition of the food and inform the consumer via some kind of visual indicator) or by self-protecting packaging, which protects itself against oxygen for example. Nano-silver, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide slow the growth of bacteria on products, thus extending their shelf-life and freshness.
• Christoph Meili is founder and head of the Innovation Society.