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Biodegradable Packages Will Keep Your Food Fresh

Researchers are investigating the possibility of creating food packaging from cellulose composites

by Kaunas University of Technology
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Antimicrobial biodegradable packagesAntimicrobial biodegradable packages keep food fresh.Photo credit: KTU

On average, a European country citizen produces around 160 kilos of packaging waste; around 19 percent of which is plastic.

"Food packaging is mainly made from various plastics, which are being produced from non-renewable sources and are non-biodegradable. Also, it is not always possible to recycle them, as leftovers from food amount to almost 50 percent of the packaging waste", says Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, researcher at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Department of Polymer Chemistry and Technology.

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He recommends to change the attitude towards the food packaging, and to choose such packaging material that would never become waste, but by naturally degrading, could turn into fertilizer.

Headed by Danilovas, the team of researchers at the KTU Department of Polymer Chemistry and Technology are working on developing a technological solution for such a package—investigating the possibility of creating it from cellulose composites.

Also, by enriching the packaging material with active components, it can help maintain freshness of food for longer.

Ethereal Oil Increases Food Shelf Life

According to the World Health Organization, more than 350,000 people die from foodborne illnesses every year. Fifty-two thousand of those deaths are caused by salmonella, 37,000 by E. coli bacteria. 40 percent of food poisoning cases are children younger than five years old.

"Our goal was to create a biodegradable package, which could help to keep food fresh for longer, which could have anti-oxidizing or antimicrobial properties," says Danilovas.

Vesta Navikaite-Snipaitiene, chemical engineering PhD student at KTU and one of the research team members, was responsible for testing the efficiency of various ethereal oils when added to the cellulose-based film.

"Active components of clove ethereal oil are very effective in tying free radicals; this oil proved efficient in enriching packaging with anti-oxidizing qualities. This effect helps to keep food fresh for longer, but such a package is not antimicrobial," says the researcher.

Silver Renders Antimicrobial Effect

"To achieve antimicrobial effect, we added ionic silver particles to the cellulose based packaging. The results we achieved were quite unexpected—the silver particles made the packaging film more elastic and stronger," says Danilovas.

The film enriched with silver inhibits the growth of microorganisms and its antimicrobial properties remain active for a long period of time.

According to Danilovas, it is a great challenge to develop food packaging, as thermal methods are always being used and cellulose does not have thermoplastic properties.

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"We are excited to have found composites, which not only allow cellulose to turn into fluid condition, but also are not toxic, which is very important in all products related to food handling," Danilovas says.

The modified cellulose packaging degrades in nature in around two years. The production of the packaging prototype was practically tested in a Lithuanian enterprise.

For the future, the researchers plan to commercialize biodegradable active food packaging products, which could replace non-recyclable plastics.