WHEYPACK is a circular project: through this project, the cheese industry, which generates a whey surplus, becomes a beneficiary of the new PHB biodegradable packaging tailored to the needs of their products.
In Europe alone, an estimated 75 million tons of whey are produced annually by the cheese-making industry. Around 40% is disposed of and managed as waste in the food industry. The project, led by AINIA technology center, has now successfully produced the first bioplastic material made from whey, a byproduct of the cheese industry. The bioplastic is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), produced via microbial fermentation of the surplus of whey derived from the cheese industry in Central Quesera Montesinos (Spain).
Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a completely biodegradable bioplastic obtained from fermentation by microorganisms. The development started with the identification and characterization of the different types of whey derived from the production processes of the different varieties of cheeses of Central Quesera Montesinos. Then, those which presented best aptitudes to carry out the fermentative bioprocess were selected.
The obtained PHB was compounded at partner technology center AIMPLAS to improve its properties and arrive at a material that was suitable for use as food packaging. Currently, the Portuguese packaging specialist EMBALNOR is designing and developing the final packaging based on this bioplastic compound.
Most commercial plastics are synthetic polymers derived from petrochemicals, and are very difficult to biodegrade. In that sense, the use of bioplastics such as PHB, biodegradable and from renewable sources (bio-based), represents a significant step towards achieving more sustainable packaging.
This new PHB food packaging will have the same features of traditional petroleum-based plastic packaging, but with a smaller carbon footprint. It could could well replace traditional plastics in the packaging of the dairy products in this region, said a project spokesperson.
The LIFE WHEYPACK European project was established to respond to one of the current concerns of the dairy industry: what to do with whey surplus derived from cheese making? With this project, the dairy industry can make a profit from their own waste, by means of the obtaining of PHB packages designed to suit the needs of their products and being economically profitable too.
This European project was funded by the LIFE program