If we can improve on food packaging, we shall have moved some steps to reducing the volume of plastic waste on the environment, and food wastes as well.The latest packaging is not just designed to look good. It is smart too, offering a range of functions to keep food fresh. Once discarded, bio-packaging will not harm the environment. In some cases, you can even eat it!
Shoppers in Italy's IPER supermarkets loading their trolleys with plastic-wrapped food can do so with a clear conscience. The chain uses starch-based PLA packaging (polylactic acid) for its fresh produce. Once used, the wrappers are absorbed back into the earth. Germany's first bioplastic bottles went on sale in September 2006. In Japan, consumers are buying fruit packed in compostable punnets made from oil palm fibre. In Australia, meanwhile, shoppers can buy chocolates packed in trays made from starch, which disintegrate on contact with water.
Building on those few examples, our idea is to take a leading step a head to scale up a full project, that will have big impacts both to humans and the environment as well.
Though it has yet to have a direct impact on most Africa Caribbean and Pacific- ACP, countries, industry experts say it is only a matter of time before bio-packaging makes its debut in the South. The new technology could represent an interesting development for producers and consumers alike. Plant-based wrapping films, trays, containers and netting are likely to create a demand for starchy crops including maize and potatoes, as well as for sugar, plant cellulose and vegetable oils. Smart packaging also offers prospects of longer shelf-lives for perishable products - an attractive consideration for remote communities. For consumers, bioplastics, made from plants rather than petrochemicals, offer safer, better quality food, without harming the environment.
In Europe, the renewable plastics market share is still small - 50,000 t out of a total of 50 Mt of plastics - but it is growing fast. Compostable bio-packaging for foods dominates the new agro-plastics industry. Other products include biodegradable films for agriculture, packaging for consumer goods and housings for electronic devices such as computers. According to Europe's industry association, European Bioplastics, bioplastics will become an important outlet for farmers' agri-products in all regions of the world. "Farmers worldwide will win the opportunity to produce crops for the production of bioplastics," said Chairman Harald Kaeb.
Bioplastics can be made from a variety of crops, among them starch and oleaginous plants, including rapeseed, sunflower and castor bean. Potentially, almost any vegetable oil can be used in the fermentation process. Researchers at the Italian science institute CNR have developed packaging based on polymers made from fruit and vegetable residues. The Dutch-based organic company EOSTA is introducing bio-plastic foil made from sugar cane fibre.
In parts of Europe and USA, where the environment is a growing consumer issue, some supermarkets are offering compostable shopping bags which can be recycled to collect organic household waste - an interesting development for Africa Caribbean and Pacific countries such as Rwanda which have banned plastic carrier bags.
But bio-packaging is not just about preserving the environment. It also interacts with the food itself, keeping it fresh for longer. Systems known as active packaging use material that modifies the internal gas environment. Active packaging can remove ethylene from horticultural produce to slow the ripening of fruit and vegetables, reduce moisture content in cut flowers and grapes to extend export life and perform 'oxygen scavenging' functions in baked goods and dairy products to inhibit the onset of mould.
Now there is also intelligent packaging, which senses food quality. In France, shoppers can see if the cheese they are buying is fresh by looking at the label, which turns a different colour if it is no longer safe to eat. Researchers have developed edible packaging, which can be sprayed onto food and is made from gluten and other natural products.
To this end, we have an opportunity to use media to inform our users to like the products since it is also helpful for their health and protection. against bad foods.
The newest generation of bio-packaging is designed to maximise the benefits of health-promoting ingredients by protecting these components until they reach their destination. A technique called micro-encapsulation creates tiny edible capsules containing key ingredients on a time-release system. That way, probiotics, omega 3-fatty acids or other elements do not deteriorate until they reach the part of the body where they can do most good. Researchers at the Food Technology Institute in Valencia, Spain, are working on coating the inside of packaging with enzymes to modify the food it contains, for example to transform lactose in dairy products, making it suitable for people with intolerances.
Industry experts agree that costs are still too high for most developing countries, but predict that prices will fall as the technology takes hold. Cost aside, the big question mark is consumer reaction, especially at a time when many people are resisting the trend towards 'tampered' foods such as genetically modified organisms.
With funding support, we can scale up the first full project of its kind.
If and when bioplastic packaging does take off, it will, of course, mean new requirements for producers wanting to sell to those markets. We and other ACP producers will need financail help in upgrading packaging technology and meeting standards. We are aware that in the EU, there are plans to implement compostable product certification, with a special seedling logo for identification. The symbol is already in use in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.