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  1. Interview
September 20, 2022

What smart labels can do for food waste reduction

Oli-Tec CEO Nik Richardson tells Packaging Gateway how his company’s smart labels are helping businesses and consumers cut waste

By Ryan Ellington

Food waste is a global issue with governments, environmental agencies and businesses looking at ways to reduce it. 

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Oli-Tec CEO Nik Richardson launched Oli-Tec in 2021 and has over 30 years of experience in packaging soloutions.

According to UK smart label producers Oli-Tec, nearly a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost each year and this generates 10% of the world’s Greenhouse Gases (GHG). In order to combat food waste, companies are sourcing and implementing sustainable practices such as biodegradable packaging, compostable packaging, zero packaging and removing best-before dates. With innovation said to be key to the future of sustainability, businesses are constantly searching for sustainable models that push the boundaries. 

In July, Oli-Tec developed a new smart label technology for products that mirror the decay cycle of the packaged product, suitable for time and temperature-sensitive products with a shelf life of between five and 15 days. The label works for any product that is affected by time  and temperature degradation, applicable to industries such as cosmetics, foods and pharmaceuticals.

“What we’re trying to do with the label is educate the consumer, because 60-70% of waste is created by the consumer,” explains Richardson. “The reason we waste food is because we mismanage it.”

Richardson says Oli-Tec worked on creating a label that would help educate consumers and inform them about how much time was left before the product was due to ‘go off’. The company toyed around with the idea of a colour-coded system to help indicate the lifetime span of the packaged product, but decided on what they viewed as a less subjective format.

“We started looking at different sciences. Our original science was like some of our competition. We were going to have a disk that would go from being green, to slowly changing to amber, and then from amber slowly to red. That is great because the amber point gives you that call to action And everybody understands the traffic light system. 

However, changing from one colour to another is subjective. At what point is it going to be amber? When it does turn amber you only have a short window of consumption. At what point is it really red? What you need is a timer.”

The Oli-Tec smart label is a time monitor label which uses a technology called Time Temperature Indicators (TTI). The label uses a viewable window that changes colour to indicate the product’s end of life. The technology with the label is time and temperature sensitive, with the gauge on the label changing across the scale according to the temperature of the product’s storage conditions and the time the product has been kept.

Richardson tells Packaging Gateway the food industry creates huge amounts of CO2 emissions. . He says the use of a smart label could prevent consumers from contributing to the 20% of food that is thrown away.

“That 20% is the equivalent to twice that of the airline industry’s CO2 emissions. Our label alone could reduce carbon emissions by twice that of the airline industry.”

Richardson’s views align with that of governments, environmental ambassadors and many other companies as he stresses the importance of ensuring waste does not end up in landfill.

“Landfills now create not just CO2, but also methane. Methane is 25 times more harmful than CO2 and everybody’s trying to reduce CO2 emissions because of global warming. It is a major issue. Hence the reasons the likes of Morrison’s, Marks and Spencer and Aldi have gotten rid of the best before dates on some items.”

Richardson tells Packaging Gateway the Oli-Tec labelling system is one that is cost-effective and can easily fit in with a company’s already established packaging model. He also claims that there are no other technologies designed out there that can be done at high speed and at low costs. There are other similar technologies on the market, such as Timestrip, which Richardson says greatly slows down the process and can cost up to GBP35,000.

“We developed our technology so that it can be applied on a standard label applicator. A small adaptation of like GBP500 to GBP1000, that existing label applicator can also activate our labels.

“Very easily, we can be applying labels at high speed and activating. There is no other company out there that can do that at the speeds we’re talking about, without the high cost of acquisition. Even the companies that are down at eight pence per label, their cost of acquisition is around about 50 to GPB60,000.”

Ensuring the label had sustainable elements to it, Richardson tells Packaging Gateway the label was specifically made to be recyclable.

“The base material is polypropylene. We put the science inside of it and then put the laminate over the top of that to seal it in, but that laminate is also polypropylene. So the label is fully recyclable.”

In order to push forward with the development of the smart labels, Oli-Tec are currently looking for businesses to take part in trials.

“We are looking for companies to run trials with. We want to prove test cases are possible. The labels are available for trials now and we believe we will be able to supply product labels at the end of the year.”

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