Two students from the Technological University of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca (UTVCO) have developed a biodegradable polymer out of oat starch that could replace plastic packaging. Engineering students Esbeydhy Oyuky Yescas and Marlen Hernández have developed a product they call Bioplastic, a biopolymer that begins to degrade after just four months, in comparison to as much as 10 years for commonly used plastics. The product’s characteristics allow for the conservation of the physical, chemical and other properties like taste and smell - of packaged goods. The students’ product also has antimicrobial properties that give it the added commercial benefit of doubling the shelf life of certain perishable goods. Another positive aspect of Bioplastic is that it uses oat grains and stimulates the local production of the cereal, added Hernández. his fast return to the environment comes at no sacrifice to the characteristics you want in a package. The college girls’ creation is impressive in several other ways. It:
*conserves the taste and smell of packaged goods along with their other physical and chemical properties.
*doubles the shelf life of certain perishable goods, pleasing storekeepers and truckers. That ability is due to the oat starch’s ability to combat microbes.
*it is renewable and expands the market for local farmers of the cereal.
Shrimp shells hold promise as oil-free alternative for plastic carrier bags. By developing the biopolymer bags, a team of researchers hope to help reduce the significant waste problem in Egypt, as well as producing a new food packaging material to extend the shelf life of products in countries including Britain. A project, being led by Dr Nicola Everitt at Nottingham University alongside researchers at Nile University in Egypt, is aimed at developing an alternative to oil-based plastics for use in packaging. To develop the bags, the researchers are investigating the use of chitosan, a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from the shrimp shells. Shrimp shells are themselves part of Egypt’s waste problem. From each kilogram of dried shrimp shells, the researchers hope to make 10-15 biopolymer bags. The shells are first washed and then boiled in acid to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean. They are then washed again before being bathed in an alkali, to remove protein from the material, leaving the long molecular chains that make up the biopolymer. The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution, and made into a polymer film using conventional processing techniques. The researchers also plan to investigate the use of the material to develop an active polymer film capable of absorbing oxygen, for use as food packaging. The packaging could offer a low energy method of improving the shelf life of foods, thereby reducing waste. “The packaging would be used to control the atmosphere around the food,” said Everitt. “Gases are quite often put in around food to try to preserve its shelf life, and people are looking at materials to hold in that atmosphere, but perhaps let other gases out,” she said. By creating certain holes between the molecular chains of the biopolymer, the researchers hope to create a way to filter out these gases. The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund.
Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties. The second strand of the project is to develop an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen. This future generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food wastage in many countries. If successful, Dr Everitt plans to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the product. Additionally, the research aims to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured. The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant and is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for The University of Nottingham.
An anti-microbial absorbent packaging from Sirane has given diced beef two additional day’s shelf life in recent trials with a UK meat processing company. The trials demonstrated a two-day increase from nine to eleven days of the shelf-life of the packs containing Sirane’s ABM pads compared to existing packaging. The new Dri-Fresh ABM pads for meat/poultry, contain a blend of natural bio-flavonoids and organic acids which work together to extend shelf-life. Together with the absorbency within the pads, they offer an outstanding level of protection and significant shelf-life extension. The ABM technology is activated by moisture – so only functions when needed. Sirane has been trying to help companies with their food waste reduction targets – ABM is one way meat and poultry packers can achieve this. ABM is a blend of natural ingredients which is incorporated into the absorbent pad. “The combination of flavonoids which are anti-oxidants and anti-microbial, with organic acids including citric acid and ascorbic acids is harmless, as all elements are found naturally within fruit. It is clean, simple, and effective.