For those of us schooled in Singapore, the 3Rs that pertain to environmental conservation - reduce, reuse, recycle - should sound familiar. What would sound even more endearing to us for certain, are the 3Ks that characterise us as Singaporeans - kiasu (afraid to lose out), kiasee (afraid of death and dying), kiabolui (afraid of having no money). While it might not be apparent, one of the 3Rs is in fact very closely related to the 3Ks when it comes to the issue of food wastage in Singapore!
As part of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint’s goal of making Singapore a Zero Waste Nation, reducing food wastage has been a priority. A survey commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) revealed that Singaporeans’ 3Ks mentality is the reason for our failure to reduce food wastage (yes, really).
Majority of Singaporeans surveyed admitted that they tend to purchase excessive food items in a bid to take advantage of ongoing promotions (kiasu); they also throw away food items that have either expired, smelt or looked stale (kiasee). However, 8 in 10 Singaporean consumers indicated that they would be motivated to reduce food wastage if it could help the family save money (kiabolui). With food lasting longer, Singaporeans can cut down on food wastage and save more money at the same time! Keep reading to find out how the team from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) set out to achieve that for us!
These days, smartphones are not the only devices that are smart; food packaging can be too! IMRE has devised a gelatinous coating suspension that makes it more difficult for oxygen molecules to reach food in its packaging.
This smart food packaging (SFP) is composed of three layers, the first is a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
The second layer is a thin coating of clay polymer that contains plate-like fillers which are gas-impermeable. This layer creates a tougher pathway for oxygen molecules to travel through the food packaging to reach the food within. These two layers are then laminated with another plastic layer of polyethylene (PE), forming a plastic film. By keeping out gases that cause food to turn stale, SFP helps to prolong the shelf-life of food!
Besides preserving the shelf-life of food as effectively as metallised food packaging such as the bags encasing your favourite Lay’s or Ruffle’s potato chips, IMRE’s SFP is cheaper than metallised packaging. It is also transparent - which makes it easier for us to observe the freshness of the food without opening the package! Furthermore, just like Tony Stark’s frequent upgrades to Spiderman’s spider-suit, IMRE is currently working on an upgrade for its SFP!
A*STAR IMRE scientists are exploring how they can incorporate oxygen-scavenging technology into the SFP. This means that any residual oxygen detected within the packaging would be absorbed automatically by the oxygen-scavengers, making this food packaging truly smart and putting the ‘avengers’ into ‘oxygen-scavengers’!
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