Described by Scottish inventor Peter Higgins as a ‘game changer’ in the fight against post consumer food waste, the chemical-based UWI (pronounced ‘you whee’) label monitors partially-used jars and tubs lurking in the fridge.
A simple, visual tracker, calibrated to the product’s life cycle, glows from green to red, warning that it has reached its ‘use within’ date and should be dumped. It could help reduce the 20% of food waste that the government-funded Waste Resources Action Plan estimated is linked to shopper confusion over labelling.
“In research, consumers said it was so simple, why hadn’t anyone thought of it before?” said Higgins, an architect by training. He struck on the idea when he reached inside the fridge in 2008 to make a sandwich for his seven-year-old son.
“I wasn’t sure when I’d opened the mayonnaise and it said on the back use within four weeks. When I took the lid off there was not really a smell, but there was doubt in my mind, so I threw the jar in the bin and made something else instead, but it got me thinking,” he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
Higgins’ eureka moment stuck a chord with families when he took to the streets last year with a prototype developed at Heriot-Watt University and funded by a private investor and Scottish Enterprise grant.
“One of the biggest frustrations for people proved to be not knowing when a jar was opened. They resented throwing it away but, like me, they wouldn’t take the risk,” he said. “Pesto bottles were their biggest gripe!”
The label, which works on any screw top or flip lid, uses a micro-engineered trigger to kick-start a chemical countdown as soon as the seal is broken.
Fish and meats
Although the stage one design is limited to ambient product packaging, a possible application in the blood transfusion service has shown it could be adapted for chilled fish and meats.
Higgins claimed the unit price of the UWI, which is applied in the same way as anti-tampering devices in the packaging process, “will be in the range of similar high-end food labels”.
Final lab tests are already underway with one major manufacturer and it has been backed by all the major UK retailers. The label should be in production in the UK within nine months.
“Supermarkets admit it’s now not politically, commercially or environmentally acceptable to be seen to be making profit out of consumers’ waste. Being able to offer something inventive to reduce it, is a win-win,” said Higgins. “For manufacturers, we see the label as being a brand differentiator and it will be 10 times less expensive than anything similar that has gone before.”
Peter will be discussing the UWI label at Glasgow’s Technology Showcase, at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre on June 12.