Smart packaging a hot trend
“Packages have a bad reputation as environmental villains, but in fact they contribute to a sustainable society,” says Chris Dominic, researcher in packaging logistics at the University of Gävle.
Packages in focus
Historically, the focus has been on the product, but in line with growing demands on reduced climate impact, packaging has become increasingly important.
“Packages have a bad reputation as environmental villains, some say that they only litter the environment, but I would say that they contribute to a sustainable society,” says Chris Dominic.
“Not so very long ago, you had to throw away the whole lowest section of the pallet with tomatoes, as the packaging was too bad. Another example is that the cucumber lasts for two weeks when wrapped in plastic, otherwise it lasts only two days.”
A hot trend
EU has issued regulation on how to use a minimum amount of material in packaging and on how to convert material into packaging. Environmental awareness has become a factor to be reckoned with, and in France plastic bags for fruits and vegetables are now illegal.
In the line of business, renewable raw materials and smart packaging solutions are a hot trend. For instance shells from shellfish and plastic from renewable sources are used.
“We are moving away from using plastic bags into using bioplastics and into making bags from biomaterials. Prawn shells are really residual products; what else are you going to do with them?”
Packaging recycled in the proper way puts a minimal strain on the environment.
Helping local food producers
Chris Dominic is now going to help local food producers by creating accustomed packaging. Right now, local producers deliver products without the right knowledge about packaging.
The municipalities have decided that we should have locally produced food for nursing homes and schools. How we can make this work in a practical manner?
“It is not expensive, but the know-how is lacking. The chef can cook, but doesn’t know how to package it and neither does the distributor. Knowledge is needed and also new operators.
Fresh salad and ice cream defrosted at the right level
Chris Dominic takes the example of the local restaurant which makes the food and delivers it to the nursing home. The main dish, a salad and, perhaps, ice cream for dessert are to be heated up at the nursing home with retained quality.
“All these can be put in the same package, like a tray. And with the use of barrier material, they can all be put into the microwave for heating together, even the ice cream. When you open the package, the main is dish is hot and the ice cream defrosted to the proper temperature for easy eating.”
The spider in the web
A logistic specialist would be optimal. Chris Dominic sees this operator as a spider in the web with knowledge of local businesses and with the ability to coordinate orders with regard to the pick-up of packaging and product, where the product is to be prepared and the package filled and then delivered to the customer at the agreed time.
“Farmers shouldn’t have to worry about driving around delivering or writing invoices, but should concentrate on cultivating excellent food products. And when packages are to be re-used or recycled, the logistic specialist should see to it that they are handled in the proper way. In this way, new jobs are created locally, for locally produced food.”
Gävle a logistics hub
Gävle is turning into a logistics hub with its harbour, infrastructure and the proximity to Stockholm. Stockholm, in contrast, suffers from congested roads and from a lack of access to harbours.
“We are trying to create opportunities for e-commerce operators, to see if we can build new central warehouses to be able to deliver to all Nordic countries. We plan to investigate where there is capacity for distribution and see how to use is. It could be for consumers, but also for the industry, for instance for the distribution of timber products.”
Chris Dominic does research on 50% of his time and also lectures in packaging logistics at the University of Gävle. He has a PhD in packaging logistics from Lund University where there is a unique programme at the Faculty of Engineering. He has worked with sustainability issues at the EU-level and also within national projects.
“Our aim is to develop new operators and to make our students stay and develop. Many businesses are interested and would like to work closely with us. The University of Gävle is interesting since they invest very much in sustainability issues. It feels great to come here and start working with these projects.”
For more information, please contact:
Chris Dominic, senior lecturer in packaging logistics at the University of Gävle.
Tel: 070-160 90 54
Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo: Ove Wall