According to the World Economic Forum, at least eight million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year. To put that number into perspective, imagine dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.

And what doesn’t end up polluting the ocean and threatening marine life ends up emitting greenhouse gases as it slowly decays in landfills: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that food and packaging/containers account for almost 45% of landfill materials in that country.

In financial terms, the WEF estimates that such waste costs the global economy between $80 billion and $120 billion.

Clearly, plastic packaging poses a problem for the economy, the environment and, increasingly, for companies that are out of step with growing demand from consumers and society to find more sustainable alternatives.

Some companies and organizations have taken the lead in nudging the food and beverage industry toward such alternatives. For example, TerraCycle’s Loop program offers consumers in some regions the opportunity to order their favorite brand-name foods in reusable containers; and a number of grocery-store chains have started allowing customers to bring their own containers to the deli counter.

Such initiatives are making headlines and gaining momentum, and any company with an eye on its bottom line would do well to pay attention to what has become a growing leitmotif of consumer expectations that shows no signs of abating.

It’s all part of the global movement toward creating a circular economy in which products are recycled, reused or repurposed, rather than being discarded into the waste stream, thereby minimizing overall waste. Like any movement, it comes with its challenges. The circular packaging economy, in particular, requires food and beverage companies to not only rethink and reinvest in their packaging operations, but to figure out how to manage and monitor an entirely new way of moving their products through the supply chain.

Digital traceability will have a key role to play in the circular packaging economy, allowing companies to manage their assets, optimize the lifespan of their newly multi-use packaging, gain valuable market insights such as where their packaging is located in the supply chain at any given time, how many times a package has been reused, and where waste and loss are occurring or are likely to occur.

By assigning a unique identifier to each item, serialization enables traceability and is therefore the first step toward establishing a system capable of following product packaging along its journey through the supply chain, as is done in industries such as pharma and other life sciences, where increasingly stringent regulations require it.

The food and beverage industry can benefit from the same tools that empower life-sciences organizations to reduce waste, optimize processes, avoid counterfeiting and fraud, and better manage product recalls.

As the only company with the ability to provide true end-to-end digital traceability, OPTEL develops and uses powerful serialization and traceability technologies to follow products and packaging at every step of the supply chain, from raw materials to the end user and beyond.

Such technologies are the key to managing the new multi-use packaging model, which will eventually evolve into a fully circular model capable of not only reducing waste, but of bolstering consumer engagement and confidence through product consignment (returning packaging in exchange for a refunded deposit) and the introduction of so-called smart packaging.

Also known as intelligent or active packaging, this promising innovation uses barcodes and sophisticated technologies to monitor and report on the condition of food products during transport, storage and even on the shelves, allowing companies and consumers to know whether a food product is fresh or past its prime.

Disruptive and empowering technologies such as end-to-end digital traceability are the future of sustainable food production and consumption, waste and loss reduction, and efficient, cost-effective supply chain management.

Early adopters of these technologies will gain a competitive edge in the food and beverage space, earning consumer confidence and enjoying greater operational efficiencies while contributing to the new reality of an increasingly circular economy.

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