Sector News

EU-funded YPACK’s bio-paper discoveries reveal “bright future” for food waste prevention

May 19, 2020
Food & Drink

While developing biodegradable food packaging from upcycled cheese whey and almond shells, EU-funded project YPACK has found that integrating zinc oxide and oregano essential oil helps the bio-papers protect against bacterial contamination in food packaging.

For the past three years, YPACK has been developing a bio-based plastic alternative to traditional plastic food packaging that can biodegrade within 90 days. These new findings indicate the potential of the bio-based active packaging to increase the shelf life of fresh products like meat, fruits and vegetables and fresh pasta.

“We see a very bright future for upcycled packaging materials, as long as the packaging is functional. This means that it can substitute existing non-environmentally friendly material. The key aspect is that the packaging, at the end-of-life, can be managed with the rest of the organic waste,” Dr. José María Lagarón, YPACK Project Coordinator, tells PackagingInsights.

The researchers selected zinc oxide and oregano essential oil as they had previously successfully worked with them within the YPACK consortia. Moreover, their properties complement each other and both comply with EU food contact regulations. In more practical terms, the YPACK team is in contact with suppliers that provide the wanted antimicrobial effects.

The PHBV films are suitable for packaging fruits, vegetables, meats and pasta.The zinc oxide and oregano oil compounds offer good antimicrobial activity against two bacteria that can cause food poisoning: Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (E.coli). The researchers also determined an optimal ratio of oregano essential oil against short-term (15 days) and zinc oxide against medium-term (up to 48 days) antibacterial effects in “open” and “closed” systems.

“We have seen that this is optimal in both sealed packages, for example cut fruit, raw meat, and in re-sealable packages, such as bread bags and ham slice packages. Re-sealed packages are made to be opened and closed several times over, so it’s important that the antimicrobial properties are still there,” Dr. Lagarón affirms. YPACK further states that shelf life improvement by 20 percent and 50 percent has the potential to reduce food waste with 12.5 percent to 30 percent, respectively.

“It’s not only our use of food by-products as raw materials that can positively impact food waste but also by how efficiently the YPACK packaging preserves the food to avoid waste in the first place. We have developed technologies that aim to preserve currently short shelf life products like fresh meat, fresh fruit and berries, as well as a ‘toolbox’ of properties that can tackle these different products and provide the right packaging for each,” Dr. Lagarón affirms.

Food waste prevention through bacterial contamination-safe packaging made from by-product materials not only assures the packaging’s biodegradability and extends shelf life, but also involves lower carbon and water footprints, Dr. Lagarón notes.

Conflict of the compostables: PHBV versus PLA
YPACK’s compostable packaging is made from a sustainable biopolymer, poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co3-hydroxyvalerate) (PHBV). Polylactic acid (PLA) packaging film has also been hailed as a viable compostable packaging material. However, Dr. Lagarón maintains that this is “not the right bio-packaging for food,” considering it is not compostable through the conventional cycle for organic matter, home compostable, nor biodegradable in the environment.

“There is little availability of truly biodegradable packaging solutions, which biodegrade when they accidentally end up in the environment or in home-composting conditions. In particular, we lack packaging that can be scaled up and show the performance that is demanded by food companies.” YPACK fills this gap by providing an environmentally sound concept of compostable packaging that can be sold to consumers.

YPACK upcycles cheese whey and cellulose from almond shells to create its bio-based plastic alternative.Dr. Lagarón further emphasizes that YPACK packaging is cost-competitive. As production upscaling grows, he expects there will be enough availability to cover a substantial amount of packaging demand in about two to three years.

Project completion draws near
YPACK’s consumer insight surveys, including over 7000 consumers across seven European countries, have yielded promising results, revealing that a significant number of participants did not oppose the use of almond shells and cheese whey in food packaging materials. Passive and active packaging technologies were similarly acceptable to consumers.

The EU-funded project is currently working with food companies and retailers, such as Migros, Continente and Tutti Pasta. Other companies that are not YPACK partners but have shown interest are Consum, Mercadona and Barilla. “At YPACK, we also involve retailers as they listen to customers, who are demanding sustainable packaging products. This demand will be key to push the development of these materials forward,” says Dr. Lagarón.

This three-year project reaches its completion this fall, bringing consumers closer to seeing YPACK packaging on the market. The YPACK team is set to present its findings at a final conference in October in Brussels, Belgium.

By: Anni Schleicher

Source: Food Ingredients First

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