Studies indicate that up to 40% of food produced globally is wasted. In addition, food packaging is often made of non-biodegradable plastics, sometimes in conjunction with other materials like aluminium, making it hard to recycle each part.
This waste ends up in landfill sites or, even worse, in the ocean. The major challenge for industry is to develop food packaging that monitors and increases shelf-life and that can be easily composted or recycled – reducing the impact on the environment.
To address the challenge, the EU and industry-funded BIOSMART project, launched in May 2017, is investigating approaches for integrating into fully bio-based flexible and rigid plastic packaging novel types of materials, surface treatments, sensor devices and new bio-active antimicrobials and antioxidants.
The project, which ends in April 2021, has already developed a means of incorporating smart oxygen sensors into modified bioplastic packaging film. The oxygen sensors detect if the film has been broken and oxygen is entering the packaging, indicating when food is about to spoil or is spoilt. The technology improves the monitoring of food shelf-life and reduces the reliance on estimated use-by dates.
“The first product approved for use in the EU is an oxygen sensor that has been successfully printed on a bio-based biodegradable plastic,” says project coordinator Amaya Igartua of the research centre IK4-Tekniker in Eibar, Spain. “By monitoring oxygen levels in food packaging, you can easily tell if the controlled atmosphere in the packaging has been altered, due to package breakage or food deterioration.”
The BIOSMART team is now working on developing similar packaging solutions that include carbon dioxide and amine sensors. Carbon dioxide is typically used in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) to replace oxygen as a means of inhibiting bacteria growth and improving food preservation. Amine gases are generated when fish or meat degrades. High levels of amine can indicate spoilage – and the potential for food poisoning.
The BIOSMART team is also working on developing bio-smart packaging made with newly developed surfaces that are very resistant to water uptake and bacteria proliferation, in order to increase food shelf-life.
Another challenge is to design compostable or recyclable bio-based packaging to improve food preservation. The team is working on both flexible and rigid options so that they can be used for a diverse range of fresh and processed foods. In addition, the project is focusing on developing lighter packaging materials to reduce weight – and ultimately the environmental impact of transporting packaging and the food products it contains.
“The BIOSMART project is creating packaging products with two lines of products: biodegradable and recyclable,” says Igartua. “Biodegradable packaging development is important to facilitate the compostability of the food wasted, and the recycling can help develop our global circular economy.”
Bringing products to the market
The BIOSMART project received funding from the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership between the EU and industry. The team has already presented and organised a number of international workshops. To foster further interest and investment, representatives from SMEs participated in a BIOSMART workshop on food preservation and packaging.
“With the help of BIOSMART’s communication strategy and the early promotion of results, packaging products will soon reach the market,” says Igartua. “This will ensure increased long-term investment in smart bio-based packaging and reduced food-related waste. The potential for new applications for the biodegradable materials is also an exciting avenue for future developments.”
Source: Bioplastics MAGAZINE, 2019-02-27.