Innovative Plastics & Polymer Additives for Smart Packaging

Published on 31 Jul, 2017

The smart packaging market is gaining traction, especially among sectors such as food and pharma, and is likely to boom in the coming years.

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Smart packaging, also known as active or intelligent packaging, is a packaging system that goes beyond conventional packaging, with functions such as sensing or measuring environmental and product characteristics, logging data or notifying users in situations where there are undesirable changes. The ‘active’ part in the smart packaging system performs the sensing function, while the ‘intelligent’ part communicates this sensing information to a user.

The system can also notify users about the interaction between product and their packaging, which could further trigger a modification in the packaging. Smart packaging also helps in extending the product’s shelf life, monitoring their freshness, and checking for quality and safety.

Smart packaging is used in various application areas such as food, drinks, healthcare, personal care, automotive, electronics, communications, and logistics, as it provides increased protection from theft and assists in real-time tracking.

Use of Smart Packaging

Smart Packaging — Materials and Key Functions

Various types of materials such as metal, glass, cellulose, porous fibrous materials, and cellulose acetate films containing sodium propionate, are used in smart packaging. Depending on the type of properties and functionalities required, different materials can be used in a smart packaging system. Materials such as Acetylated Paper, Spice Extracts, Enzymes, and Calcium Oxides are being actively explored in the domain for various applications such as odour removal, scavenging, and temperature control. Here’s a list of different materials that are either being used or looked into for applications in smart packaging technologies.

List of Materials

Odour Removal                                       

  • Nanocellulose-Zeolite Composite Films
  • Cellulose Triacetate paper
  • Acetylated paper


  • Spice Extracts (such as Cinnamon, Clove, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano)
  • Plant Extracts (such as Onion, Garlic, Radish Mustard, Horseradish) 
  • Polypeptide Nisin
  • Natamycin
  • Pediocin
  • Polysaccharides
  • Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Lysozyme
  • Potassium Sorbate
  • Pediocin fixed on cellulose


Oxygen Scavengers

  • Enzymes
  • Metal/acid-based
  • Metal catalyst-based
  • Ascorbate/metallic salts-based
  • Iron-based
  • Photosensitive Dye

Ethylene Scavengers

  • Potassium Permanganate
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Activated Carbon

Moisture Scavengers

  • Silica Gel
  • Calcium Oxide

Temperature Control

  • Aluminium/silica
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Calcium chloride
  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Aluminium
  • Titanium
  • Zinc

Why Plastics and Polymers in Smart Packaging?

Although, metals, glass and materials of organic origins have several (active and theoretical) applications in smart packaging systems, plastics and polymers have gained traction due to the following advantages.

  • Flexibility: Plastics/polymers can be easily moulded into any shape and size as compared with glass or metal packaging; it is the biggest advantage of using plastics/polymers in packaging. A variety of packages such as pouches, containers, films and trays can be easily manufactured.
  • Durability: Plastic packaging can be as hard as required, which can help the product to be safely delivered from the manufacturer to the costumer.
  • Lightweight: Plastics/polymers are around 4.5 times lighter than other forms of packaging.
  • Sustainability: Plastics/polymers can also be easily recycled. The recycling process of plastic requires only 10% of energy as compared to when recycling glass.
  • Economical: Plastics are often considered as a cost-effective alternative to other packaging forms. Due to the plastic package being lightweight, the total cost of transportation is reduced as well.

Different Plastics/Polymers in Smart Packaging

The next table shown is a comprehensive list of different polymer materials used in smart packaging. They’re broadly classified on the basis of application.

Plastic/Polymer Materials

Oxygen Scavenger                        

  • Iron salt/copolyester
  • PVdC coated polyester laminated to PE film
  • Nylon mxd6
  • Polydienes
  • Polydienes-co-PET
  • Polydienes-co-polyamides
  • Polyterpenes
  • Ester copolymers
  • Aromatic polyamides
  • Polyketones

Ethylene Scavenger

  • Polystyrenes
  • Poly ethylenes
  • Polypropylenes
  • 1-methylcyclopropane (1-MCP)

Moisture Scavenger

  • PVA
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Solid polymeric humectants

Temperature Control

  • Non-woven plastic (Thinsulate)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate

Odour Removal

  • Polyethylene tetraphthalate (PET)
  • Polyethylene
  • Aluminium or stainless steel (deposited on plastic film)


  • HDPE
  • LDPE
  • Ionomer
  • Antimicrobial enzymes like lactoperoxidase and Lactoferrin
  • Antimicrobial peptides (such as megainins, cecropines, defensins)
  • Fatty acid esters
  • Antioxidant phenolic
  • Antibiotics
  • Metals (such as copper) incorporated into polymers

Different Plastics / Polymer Additives in Smart Packaging

Different types of additives are used in packaging materials which function as antioxidants, flame retardants, heat stabilisers, anti-microbial, light stabilisers, oxygen scavengers/absorbers, flavour & odour controllers, and so on. Plastic/polymer additives are mainly segmented into categories such as plasticizers, stabilizers, flame retardants, impact modifiers, and other property enhancers.

Below is the comprehensive list of polymer additives used in smart packaging:

Polymer Additives

Fragrance Addition

  • Synthetic or natural essential oil

Colour Indicating

  • Bromocresol  purple 
  • Methyl  red

Oxygen Scavenger

  • Gallic acid (GA) and sodium carbonate
  • Vitamin C and E
  • PVdC- coating
  • Ethylene methacrylate and cyclohexene methacrylate

Ethylene Scavengers

  • Activated clays/zeolites
  • Tetrazine

Carbon dioxide Scavenger         

  • Iron oxide/calcium hydroxide
  • Ferrous carbonate/metal halide
  • Ascorbate/sodium bicarbonate


  • Enilconazole
  • Silver ion
  • Peptides
  • Chitosan

Odour removal

  • Ferrous salt + organic acids (ascorbic, citric etc.)

Technologies in Smart Packaging

  • Braskem Packaging
    At INTERPACK 2017, Braskem packaging along with Clemson University and Rio Grande do Sul Federal University came up with an intelligent packaging technology that changes the colour of a package when the product contained is unfit for consumption. It uses specific indicators to check the state of conversion of product and communicates the same to a user through an alert. When the quality of product is subpar, the package changes colour, a clear indicator to a consumer. It can be used for perishable products such as foods or cosmetics. As per Patrick Teyssonneyre, Braskem’s global director for Technology and Innovation, “This gives consumers greater quality assurance on the products they take home, and allows companies to control product integrity after manufacture, either during transport or at the point of sale.”

    Along with thermoplastic resins, a few other chemical substances that react with the specific indicators are added. When product integrity (such as pH levels) suffers any type of alteration, it is indicated by a change in the packaging’s colour.
  • Forwardable Bottle (FOBO )
    Forwardable Bottle (or FOBO), a new invention by Heineken, hopes to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging. Besides being capable of reuse, it also has a date & unique code engraved on it, a code that can be used to connect with a digital platform that allows users to leave a message, a digital message in a bottle if you will.  Users can look up the complete life cycle of the bottle as well as messages from previous users. Another interesting feature is its embossing, which becomes whiter and whiter the more it gets scuffed. In France, 800 FOBO stations have already been set up. It had sales in around 1600 pubs after one month. It also made a tremendous difference (~78%) in the carbon footprint compared to a non-returnable bottle.
  • Pilsy
    Pilsy is used to track dosages with the help of an app and a smart cap. This smart cap can be fitted on any standard pill bottle, and it’s wirelessly connected to the app. The app is supported on both iOS as well as Android. Pilsy tracks down the number of medicines taken as well as the time at which it is taken. In case a user misses a dose, it will generate a notification on their smartphone. Suppose the user is not near the device when the notification goes out, it will give the user a reminder when he/she is near. It also flashes and beeps when it is time to take the dose. If users skip their dosage, the Pilsy app will send a notification to the user’s caretaker. Pilsy also has access to an FDA database, allowing it to provide users information for any medication.
  • E Ink and Texen’s Personalized Digital Packaging
    E Ink along with Texen made this first personalized digital packaging for compacts, perfume, and other cosmetic products. E Inks made this low power paper-like display that is powered by near field communications. This display can be updated by a smartphone. A smartphones is used to generate RF signals, which carry information and energy that’s used to update the display. Once an image is switched, the display will continue to show the information with no further power input required. These displays are lightweight, durable, and allow a user to customise it by putting names/messages on it. It can also have a sensor which can enable beauty treatments based on skin conditions.
  • Coors Light
    Coors light uses sun activated ink technology that reacts to UV rays from the sun. They are painted by photochromic and thermochromics ink. These colour changing packaging are mainly utilized for aesthetic purposes, thereby making their product unique among the existing competitors. 

Key Players - Smart Packaging Technology

Smart Packaging — Market Perspective

Smart packaging finds use in various sectors, food and beverages chief among them. Hence, it is apparent that additives that are used for food and beverages packaging will be the major contributor to the development of novel packaging technologies and corresponding additives.

Amongst the additives, colour indicating additives are of the highest importance as they are primarily used to indicate the freshness of a product. Another additive which is gaining interest is oxygen scavengers; this additive helps in preserving the contents inside the packaging by controlling the oxygen penetration.

A fast growing demand in smart packaging, specifically applicable for food preservation has resulted in increased demand for aroma protective polymer additives. These additives help retain the freshness of the contents because they reduce the permeation of odours present in the outside environment.

Given the current research and application interests, it’s safe to assume that additives used as oxygen scavengers, ethylene scavengers, colour indicators, and odour removing additives will be in focus.

Smart Packaging — Future Perspective

Smart packaging has been a topic of research for over two decades now. The smart packaging sector has begun to gain traction and is soon expected to boom. Going forward, the food and pharma sectors are expected to dominate the smart packaging domain.

There remain, however, concerns about the reusability of smart packages. Smart packages contain sensors and small electronic devices, which make recycling them difficult. It’s likely that, going forward, most of the research activity in the domain would focus on developing sustainable smart packages. Most research right now, however, will be focused toward the development of oxygen scavenging and odour removal additives, all of which can help increase the shelf life of food. Moreover, some of the research activity would also be inclined towards development of intelligent additives having hybrid features, which are compatible with polymers, and are thermally & mechanically stable.