The EU-funded Forest Resource Sustainability through Bio-Based Composite Development (FORBIOPLAST) project was set up to develop biodegradable food packaging using by-products from the forestry and paper-industry such as wood fibres and tree oils.
According to the FORBIOPLAST website, 30-50% of plastics in Europe are used for packaging.
As a result there is increasing pressure on the packaging industry to develop environmentally sustainable materials.
The use of forest and paper-industry by-products in food packaging is low-cost and can act as an alternative to petroleum resources, said the project.
Challenges to overcome
Researcher Morten Sivertsvik, who is one of 16 partners in the initiative, told FoodProductionDaily.com that the bioplastics in development can challenge industry standard food packaging.
However, he admitted that more work needs to be done to iron out some “limitations.”
“There will be more development needed in relation to food packaging technology as there are still limitations with high pressure processing (HPP) and long storage. But in time we believe this technology can replace the traditional retortable tray,” said Sivertsvik.
“In principle it can be used with any type of food, but testing and development is not finished yet – there are some challenges that we are yet to overcome.”
Up to 25% wood fibre
One product being tested is made using biodegradable polyactic acid (PLA) and wood fibres.
Tests are on-going to assess the migration qualities and safety of the material for use with food.
“PLA is one material that has been used with fibres for food packaging – with wood fibres accounting for around 25%.”
Tests have been conducted with higher levels of wood fibres, but Sivertsvik added that that “it can become too brittle.”
“There have been tests at a higher rate – up to 40% - but at the moment that development is not ready.”
The project is also looking to develop an eco-friendly fish crate using polyurethane made with wood fibres and tall oil – tree oil obtained as a by-product of paper production.
Once research and development has been completed, the technology will be passed on to Hungarian and Romanian packaging companies.
“It is up to them to develop the packaging, and if they don’t we are confident that someone else will.”