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Packaging industry’s future involves Internet of Things and circular economy

Having worked for Coca-Cola, Heinz and now McCormick, Dr Michael Okoroafor, has seen his fair share of packaging in an industry that relies heavily on keeping food and beverages safe for consumption.

In order to maintain safety, while creating environmentally sustainable packaging, Okoroafor said there are four parts required to meet packaging standards today and into the future.

Speaking at Auspack 2019, Okoroafor recognised circular economy, the Internet of Things, designing for e-commerce and transparency in the supply chain as shaping the future of the packaging industry.

Circular economy

As the current vice president of global sustainability and packaging at McCormick, Okoroafor acknowledged that waste reduction was one of the key changes needed in Australia.

“The era of make, use, dispose is over. Forget your waste. We are now in the era of make, use, reuse. By 2025, you are going to be not putting things in landfill.

“I can’t overemphasise the circular economy. Why? We don’t need waste. A world without waste is what we are driving towards,” Okoroafor said.

Designing for e-commerce

Okoroafor indicated that the packaging industry is lagging behind in terms of responding to e-commerce, with traditional techniques being adapted for the online world with little thought.

He said e-commerce is going to be driven by packaging as a trigger, a conduit, to how people can get things.”

“What we do today for packaging for e-commerce is wrong. There is no packaging designed for ecommerce. You know what we do today? We take the packaging that is designed for brick-and-mortar, we insulate it as though its plutonium for nuclear weapons, then we ship it and call it e-commerce. That’s wrong, that has to change.”

Transparency in the supply chain

Consumers increasingly want to know where their food, drink and products come from. With a simple change to packaging, customers can use their smartphones to see the journey of their purchase, including where the food was grown, where the packaging materials came from and where everything was put together.

Okoroafor said the idea of a re-aligned supply chain is key in the future of packaging.

“The idea is so that you have transparency from farm all the way to table. You’re going to have transparency so that if you have a problem, you can identify that and eliminate it before it becomes a hazard,” he said.

The Internet of Things

Okoroafor explained that soon most appliances and electronic devices will remind consumers when to make repairs or orders – if not carry them out automatically.

Soon it will be much more common for fridges to give reminders about food that has been in there a bit too long. Give it access to an online supermarket account and it can order replacements when it thinks an item is running low.

To enable this, products will have to be able to speak to devices, whether that’s in terms of codes or uniform design features that fridges and freezers can universally understand.