Next time you peel an orange, take a moment to inspect its smart natural packaging. Biodegradable layers of “wrapping” protect the fruit from bruising, bugs and pathogens.
Two Israeli moms were inspired by that example to develop environmentally friendly flexible packaging solutions now used in many industries. And this is just one example of Israeli ingenuity meeting significant modern challenges in packaging.
“New packaging solutions in Israel mostly come from our very developed agricultural technology sector,” says Sahar Yazdanpour, manager of food-tech at the Israel Export Institute. “We have strong communities of entrepreneurs, academicians and ag-tech researchers, and together it all helps to bring this sector of smart packaging to a higher level worldwide.”
There’s no doubt it’s significant. Today, food and beverage packaging makes up two-thirds of the world’s plastic waste.
Let’s take a look at some of the best of these solutions emerging from Israel.
Daphna Nissenbaum and Tal Neuman founded Tipa in 2010 to create compostable flexible packaging. And while rigid packages are partly recyclable, flexible ones (like for coffee, snacks and granola bars) are made of blended materials that are hard to separate and recycle.
“Plastic packaging should behave like natural packaging, such as an orange peel. When discarded, 100 percent of the orange peel returns to nature,” says Merav Koren, VP of marketing for Tipa.
“Tipa’s vision is for flexible packaging to have the same end-of-life organic matter has, while also offering consumers and brands the same durability, transparency and shelf life they have come to expect from conventional plastics.”
Tipa’s patented, award-winning compostable polymers are used by manufacturers, mainly in Europe, to create packaging film, wrappers, pouches and bags. At Dutch retailer EkoPlaza, Tipa material is used for 30-40 percent of products in the plastic-free aisle.
“The apparel industry is very interested in our garment bags for shipping,” adds Koren. “We deal with Stella McCartney and 10 other brands. More and more companies are interested in our offerings. We’re really expert in understanding the full cycle of a completely new approach to plastic.”
These two Israeli packaging innovators jointly developed Xgo FreshLid, a next-gen “modified atmosphere” re-sealable lidding film, to extend the shelf life of fresh cherries to more than 35 days on their journey from farm to fork.
The material, showcased at the Asia Fruit Logistica trade show in Hong Kong last September, also reduces waste. FreshLid’s upper layer can be repeatedly peeled back and reattached so the consumer gets the benefit of the technology after purchasing the cherries.
In a pilot study, Chilean cherry exporter Frusan shipped several refrigerated containers of cherries in FreshLid-sealed trays to retailers in China for the Chinese New Year. The success of this pilot project propelled increased interest in the use of the film by Frusan and other cherry packers in Chile and Peru.
StePac recently introduced Xflow and Xtend packaging for blueberries to decrease labor, waste and expenses for Peruvian and Chilean exporters as well as improve the appearance of the berries.
Xflow reduces the amount of plastic used by up to 40% and is also being tested for spring onions and green beans to improve air flow for longer shelf life. Xtend polyamide-based material ensures that the blueberries arrive at distant markets without losing the waxy protective “bloom” that consumers want to see.
Nanocrystal cellulose (CNC), made from abundantly available cellulose, the main building block of the plant kingdom, is considered a “wonder material.”
It has even more potential when combined with nanoparticles of different types of materials. However, stabilizing those nanoparticles is difficult.
“Our claim to fame at Valentis is the unique ability to combine CNC and any kind of nanoparticles based on an invention of Hebrew University professors Yossi Paltiel and Oded Shoseyov,” says CEO Zvika Weiss.
“In nature, these materials have a tendency to return to their original form but the researchers found a way to lock them between layers of nanocrystal cellulose. This gives us a wide platform of new materials that can be tailor-made for different purposes depending on the particular nanoparticle and the ratio and amount,” says Weiss.
Valentis has an exclusive license from Yissum, the university’s tech-transfer company, to combine nanoparticles with CNC and any coating technology to add strength, UV blocking and antibacterial properties to packaging.
The company, founded in 2013 in the Trendlines incubator, recently raised $2 million to establish a lab in Ra’anana and continue building on the results of successful pilots with strategic partners.
“I have tens of huge global players interested in our technology for food packaging as well as pipes, construction materials, electronics, home appliances and other materials,” Weiss tells ISRAEL21c.
Another spinoff from the Hebrew University lab of Oded Shoseyov, Melodea has developed unique technologies for producing CNC for customized transparent gel package coatings that are biodegradable, extremely strong and oxygen-resistant.
Made from inexpensive renewable sources, unlike aluminum and other materials currently used as oxygen barriers for packaging, the Melodea gel has caught the eye of major paperboard manufacturers.
The Rehovot-based company has agreements in place with two industry giants: Sweden’s Holmen Group, its first investor, as well as Brazil’s Klabin.
“We are now advancing to the industrial stage to produce hundreds of tons of our material in demo plants in Sweden and in Israel,” says Shaul Lapidot, cofounder and CEO of Melodea.
He says the company’s technology integrates easily into pulp mills where raw material for paper is processed, and significantly reduces the mills’ cost and environmental impact.
Melodea’s gels can also be applied to flexible packaging to extend the shelf life of products including milk, juice, concentrates, nuts, coffee and any oil-containing food.
While the paperboard market is big, the flexible packaging market is even bigger, in the multi-trillion-dollar range. Lapidot tells ISRAEL21c the company is “negotiating agreements with significant partners in that field.”
Melodea has raised $10 million and employs 15 full-time, five part-time. “We are a tiny company in a small country, but we bring outsized knowledge to strategic players in the paperboard and related fields,” comments Lapidot.
5. Active Pak
Active Pak uses a patented automated process to permeate thermoplastic packaging materials with antimicrobial essential oils that are then infused into the package in a controlled manner to extend the shelf life of food, fragrances and pesticides.
Now being commercialized through the SN2E (Startup Nation Enterprise) national tech-transfer company in Caesarea, Active Pak uses a hybrid polymer nanocompound invented by Prof. Amos Ophir, managing director of Israel Plastics and Rubber Center at Shenkar College of Engineering.
“Active Pak replaces chemical-based antimicrobials with a natural compound, and at a similar or even lower cost. It’s not about better performance but about using nontoxic material,” Ophir tells ISRAEL21c. “We are now looking at using it for post-harvest packaging and in irrigation systems.”
The Active Pak system can integrate seamlessly into existing manufacturing and packaging processes without factory or supply chain modifications.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa leads NanoPack, a consortium of 18 industrial and research institutes across Europe working with a €7.7 million European Commission Horizon 2020 grant to develop antimicrobial food packaging solutions using natural nanomaterials.
Technion Assistant Prof. Ester Segal, NanoPack’s coordinator, said the three-year project begun in 2017 “will enhance food safety for consumers by significant growth inhibition of food-borne microbes, which in turn will prevent food-borne illness outbreaks and early spoilage.”
NanoPack was one of four finalists in the Resource Efficiency category of the Packaging Europe Sustainability Awards 2018. Judges noted that the novel packaging films under development could extend the shelf-life of perishables by up to 25%.
One NanoPack project at Segal’s lab reports promising results from an essential oil called carvacrol, found in herbs such as oregano, thyme and marjoram, which keeps its natural antimicrobial function when incorporated in plastic films.
#Nanotechnology is an emerging #foodpackaging technique, which can improve food safety & reduce #foodwaste. EU-funded project @NanoPack_EU is developing an active packaging film with antimicrobial properties. Tests on additive-free bead look promising! ????https://t.co/Ozs42N2MIs pic.twitter.com/rHsLrdb8HM
— EUFIC (@EUFIC) July 24, 2018