Plastic-Free Bioactive Paper Coating Used To Make Sustainable Packaging

Plastic packaging used to protect food is a significant contributor to the world’s growing amount of plastic pollution. Most cheese, meats, and even fruits and vegetables come in plastic packaging, not to mention all the other things in a grocery store like crackers, cookies, candies, etc. This method is hygienic, protecting the food on its journey to your home. However, these fossil-fuel-based plastics are bad for the planet.

In Germany alone, citizens generated 38.5 kilograms of plastic waste per capita in 2017. That’s a lot of plastic for one country in one year only. The country exports this plastic waste to Asian or African countries (as many countries do) for disposal and much of it ends up making its way into the oceans. There, it harms sea creatures and breaks down into microplastics, which eventually make their way into our food, potentially damaging us too. Therefore, reducing plastic packaging is a matter of necessity.

That’s why researchers have developed an innovative and sustainable solution for food packaging as part of the “BioActiveMaterials” project. They created an eco-friendly coating for paper packaging, which they use to make wrapping paper and resealable bags usable with any kind of food – fresh, cooked, or frozen.

The team made the coating from protein and waxes with biobased additives. They line the inside surface of the paper with it – applied in liquid form using standard roll-to-roll technology. It keeps the food fresh for longer, just like conventional packaging. The antioxidants in the coating even extend the shelf life of the food.

First, the proteins act as an oxygen barrier layer while the waxes form a water vapor barrier, preventing fruit, for example, from drying out quickly. Second, the biobased additives have an antioxidative and antimicrobial effect. This stops meat and fish from spoiling as quickly. Overall, the food has a much longer shelf life.

The wax protects from ink transference beyond the paper so that a producer could have its logo and nutritional information (required under food law) printed on the packaging, no problem.

The raw materials used to make the coating are natural substances already approved for use in the food industry. The protein component comes from lupins, rapeseed, sunflowers, or whey. This could even come from unused waste materials from agricultural operations. The wax is made from beeswax and wax produced from the Brazilian carnauba palm and Mexican candelilla bush.

Decided on these waxes because they are biodegradable, approved for food contact, and readily available on the market.

After use, the packaging can be disposed of or put to recycling. The coating won’t impede the recycling process.

After use, the packaging is placed in the waste paper recycling bin, the coating is biodegradable and does not impede the recycling process.

This innovative solution benefits the environment, consumers, and retailers. Shoppers are becoming more aware of the harm their buying choices can make and have been going for items in resource-efficient, plastic-free, and biodegradable packaging.

The project partners are now experimenting with concepts for applying the coating straight onto foods such as fruit or vegetables to extend their shelf life. Edible coatings are harmless.