In a bibliographic review published on August 6, 2021, in the peer-reviewed journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, Andreza Salles Barone and co-authors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, examine the application of active green-based packaging applications in the food sector and their perspectives in the circular economy.

Using a qualitative approach, the authors included all research articles available on PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar published between 2000 and 2020 that matched a set of relevant topics. From the five countries that published the greatest number of articles, the study identified more than 2800 articles on active packaging (FPF reported and here) and nearly 5000 on the circular economy. According to their literature review, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a growth in single-use food packaging due to a consumer preference for takeaway services, and plastic waste is expected to increase. The authors state that this has also helped to promote the use of bio-based materials since they are often regarded as a more sustainable alternative to conventional plastics. Thus, in the article, the authors explore the opportunities, challenges, for instance in the circular economy, and economic aspects of bio-based materials in food packaging applications with a focus on renewable materials made from agro-industrial wastes. They further review the development and application of active packaging, also giving a tabular overview of the composition, properties, application, and benefits of the studied active films.

Salles Barone et al. summarize that active bio-based packaging is a promising solution since it can integrate into the circular economy while improving the “quality and safety of packaged foods, owing to the presence of intrinsic bioactive compounds.” They regard the use of agro-industrial residues, e.g. from vegetables, as beneficial resources since they generate additional income and reduce food waste. The authors name technical factors in the production and functionality of bio-based materials as the main obstacles preventing these materials from gaining a higher market share. They highlight that the use of nanoparticles may help to overcome mechanical and barrier obstacles and improve the performance of active packaging.

Previous research has emphasized the importance of thoroughly characterizing substances migrating from active packaging, including not only active agents but also impurities and auxiliary compounds (FPF reported). In addition, the use of nanoparticles in food packaging materials is critically discussed since they may hamper biodegradability, and knowledge gaps exist regarding the migration and toxicity of nanoparticles (FPF reported). Only recently has the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that genotoxicity of titanium dioxide (TiO2; CAS 13463-67-7) could not be ruled out (FPF reported), and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) announced not approving silver compounds, such as nano-silver, in applications with food contact (FPF reported).

In their review, Salles Baron et al. also point out that complex challenges must be overcome “to the development of food packaging within the concept of circular economy, as it affects a wide range of interconnected sectors and requires a plurality of approaches.” They find that European countries and the United States are pushing a transition towards a circular economy, while developing countries are facing challenges in implementing these principles due to a lack of financial resources, weaker political will, and missing technologies.

According to a study by Eva Garcia-Vazquez and co-authors from the University of Oviedo and the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Madrid, Spain, perspective research articles see implementation of the circular economy as the approach needed to mitigate pollution from (micro)plastics. The objective of the study published on July 31, 2021, in the peer-review journal Science of the Total Environment was to compare “real research” as reflected in review articles with “perspective articles” concerning the psychosocial aspects of microplastic pollution to identify understudied topics. Based on the 22 studies that met the required criteria, the authors identify “a mismatch between current psychosocial research on microplastics and emerging directions of possible solutions”: While the circular economy is treated as the main tool to mitigate pollution and companies are seen as the priority actor to drive change according to perspective articles, psychosocial research studies do not focus on the circular economy and concentrate on the consumer as the main actor to drive change. It was also found that current research “is focused on individual drivers of pollution, [but] there is not much research about efficient solutions to change societal habits.” The authors propose future research to widen the scope and target collective actors to address the multifaceted aspects of the problem.



Salles Barone, A. et al. (2021). “Green-based active packaging: Opportunities beyond COVID-19, food applications, and perspectives in circular economy—A brief review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12812

Garcia-Vazquez, E. et al. (2021). “On the way to reduce marine microplastics pollution. Research landscape of psychosocial drivers.” Science of the Total Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.149384