Reduce Food Waste with Ethylene Absorbers

Reduce Food Waste with Ethylene Absorbers
Published On:February 23, 2023 Revised On:December 28, 2023

With the increase in food prices due to inflation, people have become increasingly aware of how much food goes to waste daily. Tech company Divert has reported that food wastage in supermarkets comes to about $25 billion. On average, China wastes about 91 million tons of food. The United States wastes over 19 million tons. And as of 2019, Singapore wasted around 744 million kg of food.

Wasting food doesn’t just amount to a waste of money; it has also become an environmental issue. When food rots, it contributes to the methane in the air. Food waste has become a public concern as the demand for fresh food increases daily. Suppliers and producers of fresh food – especially fruits and vegetables – risk wasting an inordinate amount when the supply doesn’t match the rate at which fresh food is bought and consumed.

Markets everywhere need help to balance the profits earned from sales of fruits and vegetables with the rate at which consumers purchase their products. Besides this being an issue on a large scale, consumers are also affected individually. It’s common for consumers to dispose of fruits days after purchasing them. Fortunately, science has come up with a packaging solution to this issue.

Understanding Ethylene Absorbers

To get into the solution to food wastage, one must first delve into the mechanics of how it happens. Food waste often occurs during preparation, when companies overproduce food supply. But what about when food spoils faster than it can be consumed?

Ethylene is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas with the formula C2H4. It’s a colourless and odourless gas under natural conditions and is often called the “ripening hormone.” It’s a simple alkene at a molecular level, meaning it has a double carbon bond. This might sound technical, but this bond gives ethylene its unique properties that influence the behaviour of plants and fruits.

Ethylene gas is a plant hormone that quickens growth in plants. Typically, ethylene appears just as naturally in plants as one can find insulin in the human body. But today, operators and producers in the food business use ethylene to artificially ripen fruits and vegetables. This is perfectly safe since ethylene is a naturally occurring plant hormone. Ethylene can be used for good in some ways. For example, warehouses can utilise this chemical to ensure they sell ripe fruits according to the appropriate demand, where fruits become sweeter and juicier, and vegetables can be sold faster.

But sometimes, ethylene’s perks take on a more sinister turn. While ethylene can cause fruits to ripen quicker, it also means that fruits and vegetables spoil faster. This doesn’t just apply to artificially ripened fruits and vegetables but also to plants that ripen naturally from the ethylene they produce. Consumption and supply are thus at odds. Food is wasted again, and the process appears out of our hands. This is where ethylene absorbers come in.

Where Ethylene Absorbers Come In

In the past, when fruits on the counter went bad or leafy vegetables displayed in the produce sections of supermarkets were wilted, they had to be replaced. Of course, this happens even today. But now, this problem can be reduced to prevent food wastage.

The good news is that ethylene absorbers can help combat the effects of ethylene on fruits and vegetables. Ethylene absorbers work by ‘absorbing’ ethylene gas in the environment.  This happens when the clay-like material contained in the absorber sachets reacts with the ethylene gas surrounding it, thus ‘absorbing’ or eliminating the ethylene content in its environment. Some absorbers also contain certain substances that control the growth of fungi and bacteria. This is how spoilage can be reduced in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Ethylene absorbers function by capturing and neutralising ethylene gas, thus reducing its concentration in the storage environment. As fruits and vegetables release ethylene, the absorber material attracts the ethylene molecules and either binds or converts them, preventing the gas from acting as a ripening agent. By capturing the ethylene, these absorbers help slow the ripening and senescence processes, extending the freshness and shelf life of produce.

Benefits of Using Ethylene Absorbers

Regulating and reducing ethylene concentration in storage and transport environments offers several advantages. The absorbers are a solution when it comes to reducing food waste for the following reasons:

  1. Ethylene absorbers are reasonably priced

The great thing about using ethylene absorbers to reduce food waste is that it doesn’t require sophisticated machinery or a complicated process to extend the shelf life of fresh produce. Ethylene absorbers typically are not very costly. Consumers can even purchase packs of ethylene absorbent pads or bags to maintain the freshness of their food at home.

  1. Ethylene absorbers are easy to use

These days, ethylene absorbers come in many shapes and forms. Some are packaged as discs, some look like tea bags, and some come in packs the size of one’s palm or smaller.

The great thing about how ethylene absorbers are packaged is that they can be bought and used efficiently. It also doesn’t take much work to put them to use: one only has to toss an ethylene absorbing pack onto a bowl of fruits, for example, and the chemicals in the absorber do all the work.

  1. Ethylene Absorbers are non-toxic

In this day and age, there is an increase in health literacy. The public demands products to be safe, particularly in the food industry. Ethylene absorbers are chemically inert, meaning they don’t react with the chemicals in their surrounding environment. Not only are ethylene absorbers convenient to use, but they’re also straightforward to dispose of.

By slowing down the ripening process, fruits and vegetables remain fresh for longer, reducing the risk of spoilage and waste. Their usage further poses no risk of altering the chemicals in fruits and vegetables. This means the smell, colour, and taste of fruits, vegetables, and fresh flowers can last much longer.

Usage and Application

Ethylene absorbers have become increasingly popular among food distributors, producers, and retailers. They also come in handy after harvest periods, when producers particularly need the ripening process of fruits and vegetables to slow down. International shipments of products are now made easier when long-distance trips across the ocean are required.

What’s great about ethylene absorbers is that they aren’t just available for large-scale usage. Homemakers and those who seek to maintain the freshness in their fruits and veggies can purchase these sachets. Place the ethylene absorbers close enough to where they store fresh produce, and the food stays fresh for everybody to enjoy.

Monitor absorbers for signs of saturation or depletion, typically indicated by a colour change or reduced efficiency. Replace as needed. Ensure ethylene absorbers are kept out of reach of children and pets. Although generally safe, they shouldn’t be ingested. Dispose of used absorbers according to local regulations or manufacturer guidelines.

Commercial Settings:

  • Cold Storage Facilities: Place ethylene absorbers throughout cold storage rooms, ensuring even distribution to maintain low ethylene levels.
  • Transportation: Install absorbers within shipping containers, trucks, or cargo areas where fresh produce is transported.
  • Retail: Supermarkets and grocery stores can integrate absorbers within produce sections to prolong the freshness of stocked items.

Home Use:

  • Refrigerators: Place absorbers in fruit and vegetable compartments to delay ripening and extend the freshness of stored produce.
  • Fruit Bowls: If storing fruits outside the refrigerator, keep an absorber nearby to slow down the ripening process.
  • Storage Bins: For bulk storage of produce, especially in basements or garages, use absorbers to prevent premature ripening or rotting.


Food waste is a pressing global issue with economic, environmental, and ethical implications. Ethylene accelerates food spoilage, particularly after harvest. Ethylene absorbers can directly counter this problem, extending produce shelf life and reducing waste.

Stream Peak specialises in supplying a range of ethylene absorbers and machines to extend the shelf life of perishable goods. With a focus on efficiency and performance, our products are rigorously tested to meet industry standards. For detailed information or to discuss your requirements, contact us to schedule a no-obligation appointment.