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Increasing shelf-life of fresh food with innovative packaging

SoluBlue packaging can increase the shelf-life and preserves fresh fruit and vegetables

Photo of Ayca Dundar
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

SoluBlue Ltd.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

solublue.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Cambridge

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

London

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

SoluBlue Ltd was founded in London in 2018 by a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds (hailing from Turkey, Canada, Australia and England), though holding a shared passion and vision to create sustainable food packaging from plants. In London the team observed many familiar problems of food and waste management they recognised in other large cities, and, inspired by the challenge, began to develop environmentally friendly food packaging solutions.

Given the SoluBlue team’s collective experience of cities around the world, they naturally see London as a microcosm for many of the global challenges we face supplying food to an increasing world population that increasingly lives in cities: We recognise that the environmental and socio-economic situation of London is a particular one (and one we wish to explore further), but also see in London the potential to simultaneously be an abstract model for similarly large and developed cities elsewhere. 

Today more than ever London is a node in a complex and ever evolving network of goods and services that, although we depend upon them for our survival (our daily bread, even), for the most part they remain invisible: In London, as in other cities, we take for granted that the blueberries we buy in our local supermarket are from Chile and strawberries from Egypt - it rarely crosses our mind. And nor do we tend to consider the fact that these imports would not be possible without the packaging they are wrapped in, or indeed, the value lost to society when fruit and vegetables expire and are thrown away.

Above all, London is a visionary city, one we hope is diverse and dynamic enough to lead approaches to the challenge of food supply and consumption in 2050 and beyond.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

London is a city in constant flux. It is a melting pot of people and food cultures originating all over the globe, as well as in England. Sited on the river Thames, London is divided into 32 boroughs, each made up of heterogeneous neighbourhoods with differing socio-economic characteristics. This diversity is reflected in the enormous variety of cuisine London has to offer. 

Being a densely populated capital city it is most unusual in that alongside housing the central government, it is also the financial, industrial and media capital of the UK. This makes it a highly attractive to people from other countries seeking work opportunities and the urban lifestyle that comes with it. London is the UK region with the largest number of migrants, at 3.2 million. For the same reasons, of course, London is also a magnet for people from other parts of the UK. It is a place of great aspiration; people expect to find in London whatever they want, when they want it - which certainly goes for food too!

With little to no agricultural activity happening within London, its residents are on the whole rather isolated from the reality of the (often global) food supply chain they depend on, and almost complete relyance on supermarkets for food is the norm. A great deal of competitive and commercial pressure is put on working members of the population, who are forced to live a long distance from their workplaces due to high rents and house prices resulting from the limited housing stock and space. 

For many people in London there's little time to shop for food, far less still to cook it, and deal with food waste disposal. Among young professionals, at least, breakfast is often a takeaway from the train station, lunch a sandwich on the go, and dinner a ready meal. The food and its related packaging waste produced from this fast-paced, city-dwelling, consumer-led lifestyle is by all accounts enormous, with causes and effects that reach far beyond the city of London itself. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1572

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

9000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: For every two tonnes of food eaten in the UK, one tonne is wasted. Most of this ends up in landfill or is incinerated. The majority of the food is imported in plastic packaging to supermarket chains where the vast majority of Londoners get their food today. Food waste containing plastic packaging can’t be composted likewise plastic packaging that is contaminated by spoiled food can’t be recycled. In practice neither retailers nor consumers at present have time for cleaning and separating their waste. Although it may be possible in the future to regulate waste disposal by retailers, it is unlikely that policy will be sufficient to force all consumers to clean and sort their waste. This is a major challenge as according to the EU (Fig. 1), the majority (42%) of food wastage occurs in the home. In London this problem is further compounded by the fact that compostable/food waste collection systems are inefficient and still do not exist in many boroughs. 

Plastic contamination in food waste is a big challenge as all commercially available bioplastics do not fully biodegrade within a reasonable timeline and, along with paper they lower the quality of soil as a result. Half of the fertile topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years due to modern farming techniques and with a growing population and food scarcity we cannot afford to lose any more nutrients or land by sending our food and packaging waste to landfill - where it is lost indefinitely. 

Diets & Culture: London is a fast-paced, densely populated city with a highly competitive work environment. This fosters a culture of fast and convenient consumption on the go. The World Economic Forum anticipates that by 2050 68% of the global population will live in urban areas, meaning that the diet and convenience food culture we identify in London will be increased.

Economics: Fresh food is getting less affordable. Locally produced foods in markets are more expensive than in the supermarkets. According to the 2018 London Food Strategy Report, more than 2.3 million Londoners live below the poverty line and many people do not have shops in their area that sell enough affordable, healthy food.

Technology: How we pack and store our food lacks technological innovation. The most common packaging material for fresh fruit and vegetables today is plastic. Most often, plastic packaging serves only to protect food from outside forces, reducing spoilage caused by bruising. However plastic is not breathable, meaning that residual moisture and vapour from the respiring fruit and vegetables is trapped within the packaging, causing bacterial and mould growth and leading to premature food spoilage.

Policy: On review of the London Food Strategy 2018 (attached) it is clear that the food system and strategy for London lacks a circular approach as there is a lot of information on how we produce and supply food, but very little on how we manage and reduce food waste and it is importance to our environment.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment: Our approach is to address the challenges innovative packaging solutions that increases shelf life, actively prevents food spoilage, and it is home compostable. Our approach to using our packaging to address the challenges in London is best illustrated by the Food Waste Hierarchy diagram [fig. 2] (based on the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008), which sets out five steps for dealing with food waste, ranked according to their environmental impact. Focusing on the ‘prevention’ side of the hierarchy, we believe our packaging can affect change in the following ways, listed in order of preference:

1.Fresh food will be prevented from going ‘off’ or mouldy.

2.Food will be preserved using the packaging.

3.The compostable properties of the packaging will mean that food not consumed by people can be sent to feed livestock. 

4.Being plant-based and compostable our packaging will be disposed of by the consumer in their food waste bin, addressing the 42% of food that is lost to our ecosystem via domestic households. The same advantage, of course, can be seen from a retailer perspective too.

Diets & Culture: Unlike plastic, which disrupts the circularity of food recovery systems, a fast-degrading packaging material such as we have developed will ensure that nutrients and resources taken from the ground are returned there: By removing the requirement for consumers to sort and clean their household waste we make it easy and convenient for them, living within an urban culture, to eat and act in a way that is sustainable.

Economics: The benefit to the consumer of having access to food with a longer shelf-life has the potential to lower the cost of food for them (due to less waste from what they buy) and though the potential for cost savings to be passed on to them by retailers who experience reduced costs due to an extension to their sell by dates and related efficiencies. Additionally, there may be a second retail opportunity for dried fruits etc. that were not initially sold when fresh.

Technology: Our approach is to develop an innovative food packaging material for London (and, later, beyond) that not only serves to protect from outside forces in transit but reduces spoilage caused residual moisture and vapour from the respiring fruit and vegetables using breathable properties, thereby extending the shelf-life of food. 

Policy: An open letter published by the Guardian newspaper this year and signed by politicians, sustainability and industry experts calls for the use of compostable packaging materials to replace recyclable plastic packaging in future. We also hope to raise awareness of this issue and to answer a need with our products for the kind of food packaging this letter and the emerging policies and legislation increasingly calls for.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envisage a future city, London, where the food-system challenges placed on the lives of its individuals as well as wholesalers, retailers and waste management facilities can be met with food packaging solutions that make commercial, environmental and social sense. Packaging based on ingredients grown in the ocean that extends the life of fresh food will create, will reduce food waste. 

Food waste for perishable fruits and vegetables will be cut to a minimum or even eradicated entirely: items such as blueberries and peppers, for example, will be eaten fresh as well as dried, fueling a thrifty and inventive culture around food consumption which seeks to get more from less in cities where food supply is increasingly under pressure.

Food waste with packaging disposed of by the consumer will no longer end up entombed in landfills or incinerated, but will be used to feed livestock and fertilise soil: a truly circular food system at a time of increased scarcity of resources, unprecedented human global population growth and climate change.

Our hope is that this vision does not come about through necessity alone, driven by the global environmental imperative, but though benefits to the consumer and commercial market incentives presented by packaging materials that extend the life of food and return once they are finished with - quickly and benignly - to the earth.

Ultimately, we see London as an experimental model with the potential to create the president needed to drive systemic global adoption of sustainable food packaging solutions. In tandem with London, by 2050, other major cities around the world will follow suit in their adoption of our highly scalable, phasable and effective approach to eliminate waste in the global supply food chain. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision centers around the goal of reducing food waste by increasing the shelf life of fresh foods and preserving them before they start to spoil, using packaging. From this perspective we have identified and recognise the limits of plastic packaging today and can certainly imagine a time in the near future when single-use plastic packaging will be banned. In anticipation of this eventuality, we have developed an innovative packaging material that increases shelf life, actively prevents food spoilage, and it is home compostable. Basing our approach on the latest research, our visionary approach to using packaging to reduce food waste and associated ecological harm takes a systemic approach, guided by the following performative directives we have set ourselves:

Fresh food will be prevented from going ‘off’ or mouldy by being packaged in breathable material. Increasing shelf-life reduces greenhouse gas methane released during food decomposition.

Food will be preserved through a controlled process of dehydration managed by its packaging. This will provide a ‘second-life’ for fruit and vegetables in their dried form for use in jam-making, pickling or baking etc. 

The compostable properties of the packaging will mean that food not consumed by people can be sent to feed livestock because it is dried and free from mould. The United Nations estimates that if farmers around the world fed their livestock on agricultural byproducts, and on food we currently waste, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people.

Being plant-based and compostable our packaging will be disposed of by the consumer in their food waste bin. This means additional food waste that would otherwise be lost in contaminating plastic packaging can be recovered and used to fertilise soil and grow food. This, along with an improved network of food waste collection in London in 2050, could address the 42% of food that is lost to our ecosystem via domestic households. The same advantage, of course, can be seen from a retailer perspective too.

In a market-led city like London change occurs in lock-step with commerce. In economic terms, then, our vision must create a positive impact on the economy experienced by retailers, processed food manufacturers and consumers alike. Future economic opportunities we see at this time are as follows:

1. Retailers will be able to keep fresh food fresh for longer instead of buying more food from farmers to compensate for inefficiencies caused by wastage. Fresh food will also have a ‘second-life’ for retail: once the ‘fresh sell-by date’ has expired a second ‘dried sell-by date’ may mean that retailers can keep food on their shelves for longer, or that consumers can keep food in their cupboard for longer. This both increases the value of food at the point which it is sold and represents the potential for consumer savings on products that simply last longer. In fact, we also envision a reduction in refrigeration in store and at home using our packaging; reducing energy use and lowering the cost of food preservation.

2. Processed Food Manufacturers (producers such as jam, juice, pickle, bakery, etc): Instead of buying their ingredients from processed dry food suppliers they can buy from retailers’ dried fruit surplus at a lower price, which also represents a new revenue stream for the retailer. 

3. After our packaged food starts its second life in dried form, consumers will still be able to use it in their dish. For example, an individual who forgets to use the fresh chillies he or she bought last week will still have the opportunity to use them when dried (ground up in their soup, perhaps) because they will be free from mould - all of which could avoid buying dried peppers in the first place!

4. Governmental and local authority waste management facilities will have the opportunity to generate revenue by composting increased quantities of high-quality, valuable food waste (without plastic, bioplastic, or paper packaging contamination) by selling compost to farmers. By promoting fully compostable packaging governments and local authorities would also save money as they do not have to clean water by removing plastics and micro plastic contaminants originating as food packaging.

Land is very expensive in London and the UK. Land use for general waste is getting more and more expensive today. In 2050, if the UK Government promotes and adopts composting as the main solution for food and packaging items, then some of the cost associated with pressure on land use may be alleviated. 

5. Buying fertiliser and compost from governmental organisations running the facilities could present an economic benefit for farmers who currently by from privately held facilities servicing London. They may in future also be able to buy edible food waste from retailers for their livestock as a reduced price compared to buying from existing animal food producers.

We believe that with food scarcity in 2050 there will be an increased interest in food preserving technologies such as what we are developing. The Huel brand is a great example of this idea by offering powdered dry food mixtures to consumers as an alternative food option. We believe that this trend is going to expand. Like Huel, our packaging technology will be able to make the food preservation more affordable and widely available.

Contemporary food preservation technologies such as coolers and dehydrators lack the innovation needed for the future. For example coolers cause condensation and use a lot of energy. Food dryers also use a lot of energy and they are not efficient. Furthermore, the cooling and drying technology today is not user centered. Users have to realise first that their food is about to expire in order to start using food preserving techniques. Whereas our technology offers more user centered design where, even when users forget about their fresh food, they will still be able to use it as dry food in their meals.

In 2050, we expect that single-use plastic items will be banned, and packaging systems will rapidly shift towards compostable solutions. This is going to have a positive impact on food waste collection and increasing composting. With fully biodegradable and compostable packaging technology we will be able to provide circular food system. Fully compostable packaging solutions like ours are not going to disrupt the food waste management, making it more convenient for producers, retailers, consumers and local authorities as a result. 

Finally, from a cultural standpoint, we envision that in 2050 there will be more concern for preserving and protecting natural resources, the circularity of ecosystems and the effectiveness of food waste management systems. Unfortunately, however, we also expect that people will have even busier lives and will increasingly live in urban areas. We want to help people to do the right thing with their food waste and not to feel guilty about it. In offering a ‘second life’ to fresh foods using packaging dehydration technology, by 2050 we will change people’s understanding of what food waste is and what can be regarded as ‘edible’. Our vision, then, also involves helping people discover different diets and giving them control over the way they consume and dispose of food. We hope new diets and cuisines will emerge as a result, making our experience of food in 2050 an even more positive and sustainable one.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of CEAGRO Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável e Capacitação em Agroeocologia
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Hello Ayca!
Thats amazing your product! its soo important the packing as the product inside. We sell organic products and in the most part os times we cant find organic solutions for the packing. We would to know more about your prodution process.We make part of a network that have more than 100.000 farmers, agroindustries and cooperatives. Let us know in pda@ceagro.org

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