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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
New Advancements Turning Packaging Into Food and Food Into Plastic

Plastic is the boon and bane of our times. While its uses are numerous and at times, even critical, its waste and the resultant pollution clogs up our rivers and oceans and pollutes our lands. But recent advancements in packaging offer hope.

One example is Stonyfield Farm’s collaboration with WikiFoods on edible packaging for frozen yogurt. Made from fruit skin, the WikiPearl technology that packages Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt Pearls protects food and beverages without exposing them to chemicals or unnatural ingredients. WikiFoods describes the skin as a “protective electrostatic gel formed by harnessing interactions between natural food particles, nutritive ions and a polysaccharide.” The skin creates a layer that is not as permeable to air, allowing it to be washed, carried and handled without any damage to the food or beverage it's encasing.

“No spoon needed, just a delicious bite of beautifully crafted organic frozen yogurt served without any container. Re-imagine all the ways you can eat your favorite organic dessert – in the car, on the beach, with the kids at the park – no spoon, no waste, no limits,” Stonyfield co-founder and chairman, Gary Hirshberg said in a blog post.

Stonyfield tested its Frozen Yogurt Pearls in March at four Whole Foods stores in the Boston area with six flavors. The company says availability is still limited to the test market areas, as stores are not yet equipped to sell the package-free product - the companies are working with retailers to create ways to sell them in the near future.

The Stonyfield/WikiFoods collaboration has won three awards for Best Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt, Best Dairy Packaging Innovation and Best Overall Concept at the 2014 World Dairy Innovation Awards in Istanbul.

While the potential for this type of technology bodes well for the reduction of plastic in food packaging, another development involves a simple method to convert food waste into cellulose-based plastics. Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology are experimenting with producing plastics from biomass so that the materials are renewable, biodegradable, and possibly less toxic. A potential feedstock here is cellulose.

The team used a technique that’s normally used to break cellulose down into simpler sugars for biofuel production – soaking the material in acid. The team used trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) to soak inedible waste from four food crops: spinach, rice, cocoa beans and parsley – the result was plastic coatings and films with a variety of mechanical properties. According to the researchers, these have tensile strengths similar to synthetic polymers such as polyethylene terephthalate and polyethylene. Like synthetic polymers, these plant-waste plastics also thermally degrade at temperatures between 150 - 300 ºC.

In other renewable plastics news, BASF recently unveiled a versatile, high-performance polyamide called Ultramid®, which is derived from renewable raw materials — the company says it replaces up to 100 percent of the fossil-based resources used at the beginning of the integrated production process with certified biomass. It says the resulting polymer is identical to traditional fossil-based polyamides in terms of formulation and quality but results in lower greenhouse gas emissions. And UK specialty paper and advanced materials manufacturer James Cropper PLC recently unveiled a renewable alternative to plastic that the company says can carry the weight of an adult and be composted within 100 days. Developed in partnership with Södra, a Swedish forestry cooperative, DuraPulp is a bio-composite material that consists of specially selected pulp and a renewable biopolymer. Unlike other composite products, DuraPulp is believed to be the only material available of its kind that is completely biodegradable and derived from 100 percent renewable resources.


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