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Smart Packaging Materials

Scientists at Forest Research in Rotorua are developing smart packaging systems based on paper and other material, which protect everything from flowers to butter on their journey across the world.

Stuart Corson, leader of the research project, said that packaging is essential to protecting and marketing our export goods.

"Every week vast quantities of New Zealand meat, fish, butter, cheese, fruit and flowers are exported across the world in packaging made from paper," said Dr Corson.

"We use paper because it is low cost, low bulk, light weight and is high in strength and recyclability. Paper has the added advantage in today's environmentally-conscious world of being produced from a renewable resource."

The research, an investment of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is helping to make these paper boxes stronger and better able to protect the freshness of their contents.

"New Zealand's horticultural food exports must be shipped in a cool, moist, refrigerated environment. Their initial storage in New Zealand and journey to supermarkets around the world may take up to four months," said Dr Corson.

"These adverse conditions weaken the corrugated boxes hindering their ability to properly protect their contents. This happens because the wood fibres, from which the boxes are made, swell when they become damp and lose their tight grip on each other."

The research intends to make paper that doesn't weaken when it becomes damp.

"The answer will not be easy to find. Many scientists around the world have tried and failed. This problem is, however, more important for New Zealand than for other countries that are closer to their markets and whose boxes don't have to last as long," said Dr Corson.

In a second component of the research, Dr Corson said that "We are additionally investigating barrier coatings, typically involving enzymes and polymers that will slow the normal deterioration processes that cause fresh produce to decay."

"The end result will be boxes that help our exporters get the best prices for their produce when it gets to the supermarkets of Asia, North America and Europe in the freshest condition and which, at the same time, helps make our paper industry more profitable."

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