Towards a novel cost-effective method for 100% compostable, food packaging bio-plastic.

Food requires optimal preservation by a packaging that maintains quality and safety. These two aspects are taken for granted by the consumer when food is purchased, any food packaging material must always fulfill these two requirements: a) high thermal stability (quality) and b) high barrier properties (safety). Besides, environmental awareness is nowadays creating a strong demand for more renewable and sustainable packaging materials that show equal or better performance than petrochemical plastics at a competitive price.

Non-renewable petrochemical plastics are used because they are very cheap and they ensure quality and safe food packaging. In fact more than 99% of the materials processed in Europe are petrochemical plastics. After food is packaged with these plastics, consumers dispose them and it becomes a waste that is normally landfilled or burned. Plastics cannot be easily recycled. Food packaging is normally contaminated with food leftovers, which makes sorting more difficult and recycling more costly.

Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn, starch, etc. Some but not all bioplastics are designed to biodegrade. There is a variety of materials that bioplastics can be composed of, like starch or other biopolymers like PHA and PLA. However, they all present limitations for food packaging applications. Starch based plastics have poor moisture resistance while PLA plastics have low CO2 oxygen barrier properties. Although PHA can overcome these technical barriers, showing better performance than alternative biopolymers their market uptake is limited by their high production costs, mainly related to a high raw material cost and an inefficient production process.

In EUROPHA Project, a European consortium integrated by four SME-Associations, Federacion de Cooperativas Agrarias de Murcia (Spain), Svensk plastindustriforening (Sweden), Plastipolis (Fance), The British Plastics Federation LBG (UK); two industrial SMEs, Idrodepurazione (Italy), Nuevas Technologias ara el Desarrollo de Packaging y Productos Agroalimentarios con Componente Plastica SL (Spain) and three Research Centers, Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnologica (Portugal), Eidgenoessische Materialpruefungs-Und Forschungsanstalt (Switzerland) and Tecnologías Avanzadas Inspiralia S.L. (Spain); seeks to develop an industrial process for low cost PHA production through the use of low value feedstock from agro-industrial waste/surplus streams. The process will allow simultaneously reducing PHA bioplastics production costs allowing its market uptake, valorize agro-food waste, and produce new food packaging formulations with 100%, complete and short time biodegradability in anaerobic and aerobic conditions.