Plastic packaging made from the fermented wastewater of processed juice could save industry millions in production costs and tap into growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products.
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This is the goal of the EU-funded PHBOTTLE project, which is developing an innovative way of adding value to industrial residues and then developing these into a new biodegradable material.
“The main tangible result of the project will be a new bottle made of biodegradable material, which will be obtained through the fermentation of wastewater,” explains project coordinator Ana Valera. “The project should also contribute to the creation of new jobs, because new biotechnology facilities will be required to properly develop this new material.”
PHBOTTLE’s work should also provide additional economic benefits for Europe. Food packaging is one of the most visible sources of waste, with over 67 million tonnes generated in the EU every year. Cutting down this waste would mean reduced energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, as well as less waste treatment costs.
PHBOTTLE is focusing on juice processing wastewater because it contains high amounts of organic substances, including fermentable sugars such as glucose, fructose and maltose. The concentration of these fermentable sugars can reach 70% of the total organic load, which researchers believe makes juice wastewater an ideal and cheap source of raw material to produce PHB.
PHB is a type of biopolymer (an organic compound) that has several useful properties as a raw material for food packaging. It is moisture and vapour resistant, won’t dissolve on contact with water, has see-through properties and offers good protection against oxygen. All these factors help to stop food from spoiling. In other words, the compound is perfect for making biodegradable juice packaging.
Promoting green chemistry
Due for completion in 2015, PHBOTTLE will show how ‘green chemistry’ – a scientific approach to developing products and processes that reduce the use and generation of hazardous substances – can benefit European industry and consumers, and lead to new innovations.
Indeed, while the main target of PHBOTTLE is to develop new biodegradable food packaging solutions, potential non-food packaging uses, such as cosmetics, and even non-packaging applications such as automotive parts, will also be examined.
For researchers, PHBOTTLE is providing them with better insight into potential uses for waste materials across a range of sectors, and how these materials can best be processed.
Throughout the project, particular attention is being paid to the stability of food packed in the new material during storage. Food safety and quality is important in the development of the new materials and processes.
The consortium includes partners from Europe – Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands – and also Latin America – Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. “This project is also a very international one,” says Dr Valera. “This way we get the latest and best research practices not only from Europe. International partners will also help us disseminate the project's findings more widely at the end of the project in 2015,” she concludes.