Biopolymers will become important in Europe over the next three years as a key ingredient in developing fully sustainable packaging and wrapping for fresh produce to extend its shelf life, improve quality, and reduce waste.
European countries are under a directive from the European Union to prevent food waste. So, a group of European companies and researchers from different countries are collaborating to develop a new material to tackle food waste, reports Heather Caliendo of Plastics Today. The effort is called ISA-Pack, a $5 million project, funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program. It seeks to reduce retailer supply chain packaging of fresh food produce, which includes meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, by about 75%.
The project will develop two biopolymer materials: bioplastic stretch wrap films to replace conventional PVC stretch film; and gas barrier sheets and films that will be used in manufacturing modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), including vacuum packaging.
The bioplastic, moldable plastic material will be composed of chemical compounds that are derived from or synthesized by microbes — such as bacteria — or plants.
“Unlike traditional plastics, which are derived from petroleum, bioplastics are obtained from renewable resources, and they are biodegradable,” says John Bright, managing director at Biopache, a U.K.-based sustainable packaging design and development company participating in ISA-Pack. “Packaging produced from microbes that feed on sustainable natural materials may have the answer to high performance protection stretch film packaging.”
Caliendo explains how the materials will be processed:
The group will use unsaturated polyhydroxybutyrate copolymer materials derived from microbial fermentation of sustainable feed-stocks (including food waste itself) and incorporating low volume cross linkages, demonstrating properties suitable for gas barrier and stretch film packaging applications.
Another goal of the project is to develop intelligent indicator systems that can be printed directly onto packaging materials. These systems will use both time and temperature indicators to monitor bacterial growth with freshness indicators. The project also will assess the full lifecycle and economic impacts of all ISA-Pack products.
Source: “European consortium to develop sustainable packaging that reduces food waste,” Plastics Today, 5/11/12
Image by Muu-karhu, used under its Creative Commons license.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.