A team of researchers from the KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology have created a fully-compostable packaging for food products from bioplastic, which disintegrates with the help of microorganisms.
Bioplastic created at KTU is transparent and all the materials in its composition are suitable for contact with food.
“We are used to get sandwiches, snacks, pastries, sweets and many other products in a paper bag with a plastic window. With a clear window on the front face, the products in the bag can be viewed easily. Although paper is biologically degradable, it is complicated to separate paper from plastic, and the package is considered non-recyclable and non-compostable. However, if we made the window from biodegradable plastic, it could be composted. Moreover, we could even use the bag for collecting biodegradable waste and put all into the compost bin together”, says Dr Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, the lead researcher of the team.
Compostability is a characteristic of a product that allows it to biodegrade under specific conditions under the influence of microorganisms.
“There are plenty of microorganisms in compost and they digest our plastic very well”, says Dr Danilovas.
According to EU standards, in industrial compost centres, which sustain the temperature of 580C, bioplastic degrades in half a year. However, in a compost bin at home, the process would take a couple of years.
Bioplastic created at KTU laboratories is made from cellulose – a natural material, the main building block of plant cells’ membranes.Usually derived from timber, cellulose is the most common biopolymer found in nature.
According to researchers, the main challenge while creating bioplastic is not only to make it degradable but also transparent, as this quality is often required by customers.
“Usually, to become fluid plastic needs to be heated. However, if you heat paper (which is also based on cellulose) it will not only not become liquid, but will also burn! We are excited to have found composites, which not only allow cellulose to turn into fluid condition but also are non-toxic, which is very important in all products related to food handling”, says Dr Danilovas.
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