EU-funded Project Targets Sustainable Active Food Packaging
The EU-funded project REFUCOAT has successfully developed a new set of innovative and resource-efficient processes for producing bioplastics for food packaging from renewable materials, with a strong potential to replace traditional fossil-based raw materials.
Using these bioplastics, which include polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and polyglycolic acid (PGA), REFUCOAT has developed three different bio-based active packaging systems, designed specifically for potato chips, fresh chicken and breadcrumbs. A key innovation has been the development of coatings based on bacteriophages, which significantly slow down the growth of Salmonella bacteria in chicken samples packed in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). Current plastic production relies heavily on raw materials from fossil-based, non-renewable sources and many food products require complex multilayer plastic packaging that is often difficult or expensive to recycle. REFUCOAT’s packaging systems are recyclable and/or compostable, making them a promising sustainable alternative to current packaging on the market.
Lorena Rodriguez Garrido, from Technical Institute of Plastics (AIMPLAS), and scientific coordinator of REFUCOAT, said: “Packaging needs to be recyclable, while at the same time maintaining the optimal barrier properties needed to protect the food inside. Current complex multi-layer packaging made from non-renewable sources are difficult and expensive to recycle. REFUCOAT’s goal is to replace current packaging with sustainable, high-performing alternatives.”
Over the past three years, REFUCOAT has concentrated on three main areas:
- developing active coatings for food packaging films that increase the shelf life of the food products;
- a food industry by-product, low quality flour, that would otherwise have been wasted was used as a source material to produce the biodegradable biopolymer PHA via microbial fermentation;
- developing efficient and industrially relevant conditions for producing PGA and its precursor, for the first time. This scaled up production has the potential to reduce the cost of production of PGA, which has so far been too expensive to replace current fossil-based materials, according to the project’s representatives.
REFUCOAT is currently validating each new packaging structure and comparing their performance to current metallized, non-bio-based alternatives in industrial products. The project is also carrying out testing to compare shelf-life and biodegradability to traditional packaging products currently on the market.