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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
EU Initiative Developing Plastic Packaging Made from Wastewater

An EU-funded program is developing a method for making plastic packaging from the fermented wastewater of processed juice, which could save the beverage industry millions while tapping into growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products.

Through the PHBOTTLE project, researchers are working to create value from industrial residues by developing them into a new biodegradable material. The project is focusing on juice-processing wastewater because it contains high concentrations of organic substances, including fermentable sugars such as glucose, fructose and maltose.

“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,” project coordinator Ana Valera explained. “The project should also contribute to the creation of new jobs, because new biotechnology facilities will be required to properly develop this new material.”

Due to the fact that the levels of these fermentable sugars can reach 70 percent of the total organic load, researchers believe juice wastewater is an ideal and cheap source of raw material to produce an organic compound called PHB, a type of biopolymer.

The European Commission says PHB 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 of which help to slow food spoilage. In other words, the compound is perfect for making biodegradable juice packaging.

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.

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.

While the main goal 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, the project 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.

Last year, Italian biotech firm Bio-on developed a bioplastic called PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate), made from agricultural processing waste materials, which is 100 percent biodegradable in water and soil and can be used as a substrate for electric circuits. When combined with suitable nanofillers, the polymer can act as an electricity conductor, with the potential of replacing plastics in most electronics.

BASF also announced a strategic manufacturing partnership with Heritage Plastics, Inc. to produce the chemical company’s ecovio® compostable bioplastic products in North America. The partnership enables BASF to expand manufacturing of its ecovio biopolymers, which were previously only produced in Europe.

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