Active polyvalent packaging based on environmentally friendly fivre material with thermoformable properties to extend shelf-liefe of fresh food for the reduction of waste

Workgroup: Packaging materials

Research Instiutes and Scientific Guidance:

  1. Papiertechnisches Institut (PTI), Dr. Markus Kleebauer
  2. Institut für Zellstoff und Papier (IZP)
  3. Leibnitz-Institut für Agrartechnik (ATB)

IGF: 142 EBG
Duration: 2015 – 2017

The society as a whole is confronted with important losses in particular at the end of the value- and distribution chain in food and packaging. This is partly due to an insufficient shelf-life of fresh food in small packaging units. Another important cause is consumer behaviour, which will not be covered in this project. In addition to the economic losses in fresh food and corresponding packaging materials, this creates a massive environmental impact. Wasted food has to be dealt within suitable treatment units. Apart from the food-waste issue, this market generates large amounts of used packaging. Used materials are mostly based on non-renewable resources. Resulting waste has to be handled in specific treatment units, mainly incineration with energy recovery and controlled gaseous emissions. This entails high costs for municipalities, i.e. eventually for the consumer.
The market of fresh food in ever smaller packing units is constantly rising. This stresses the need for urgent solutions. The variety of demands from customers calls for tailor-made and small volume applications, which are typically the market for SMEs. It is expected that the SME sector will benefit most of this project. Any solution reducing waste and environmental impact of this waste is welcome.
Pragmatically, such improvements could be brought by:

  • Longer shelf-life packaging solutions for fresh food (reduction of food waste and of packaging materials)
  • Use of renewable and compostable packaging materials, reducing environmental impact and pressure on resource supply of end-of-life packages

This project aims to develop a novel fibre-based thermo-formable packaging material for the production of compostable trays for fresh food packaging. Further development steps will include barrier functionalities for moisture and oxygen im-permeability optimised for thermo-processing and also antimicrobial coatings, both intended to preserve the freshness and edibility of the packaging good and thus extending the shelf-life. Additionally, a bio-based barrier topfilm with antimicrobial properties will be developed, which is sealable on the fibre-based tray. The total packaging concept is recyclable and compostable. To achieve these goals, the project is divided into 3 phases: I) material development, II) material assessment and III) tray/topfilm demonstration. In the latter phase, the performance of the developed packaging material will be evaluated for different fresh food products, both in lab-scale and on industrial scale.
We have startet with the parallel development of the individual materials for the tray packaging. In WP 2 tests were per-formed to functionalize the cellulose fibres to create thermo-formable fibre-based material. Likewise, in WP 3 polymers for the ductile barrier coating were characterised according to their ability to thermoforming and their impermeability of oxygen and water vapour. In WP 4 we have started with the development of antimicrobial coatings following different approaches with focus on food-contact approved materials. The target bacteria were selected according to the demonstration case, the shelf-life extension of fresh meat. In WP5 suitable foils based on biopolymers were selected and will be coated to guarantee sealability of the tray.

The novel packaging material for trays will open new markets for SMEs for producers of packaging materials and also fresh food. It is expected that this new packaging solution will penetrate the market through the “green thinking” upper middle class, probably around 10% of the market in the participating countries (Germany, Belgium and Poland), and then reach the main stream of users. The target group of this project are firstly food producing companies, which can broaden their market through the extension of shelf-life of fresh food products and through the biobased and compostable nature of the material aiming amongst others to bio-shops. Secondly, packaging producers can also valorise the project results through different routes: producing paper with extra functionality and offering compostable and biobased alternatives to existing crude-oil based packaging solutions. Thirdly, different developed technologies within this project can be applied in other sectors in order to integrate barrier or antimicrobial coatings on different substrates e.g. processing equipment. The project results will not be immediately suitable for the introduction of new packaging products to the market. Instead, the project delivers valuable knowledge on a new concept for an eco-friendly packaging material for trays and topfilms. This will support SMEs in the mentioned sector to create innovative outlets and new jobs.