In the French food market, the dairy industry is ranked the second largest out of the total food industry. So scientists have come up with an ingenious method to maximise this infinite resource and create plastic packaging from milk protein. One French firm called Lactips is a patented producer of biodegradable thermoplastics in an attempt to revolutionise packaging limits. Across the world, 320 million tonnes of plastic is produced but only five percent is recycled. This innovation could transform the plastic packaging industry, reduce waste and can even be eaten! The biodegradable thermoplastic company is hoping to commercialise its products later this year with the next plan to construct their own production plant. So could this innovation be coming to a supermarket near you?
"What’s more is that this bioplastic film can degrade within 18 days and be used as home compost."
Founded in 2014, the technology has been a seven year work in progress. Lactips produces water soluble and biodegradable thermoplastic pellets derived from a milk protein called casein. So far, they have been adapted for the detergent market, with the aim to enter the food and pharmaceutical industry in coming years. The pellets are a sustainable substitute compared to traditional oil-based packaging, which are more efficient and sustainable for consumers and the environment. What’s more is that this bioplastic film can degrade within 18 days and be used as home compost.
“Our material is a clean biomaterial, it doesn’t leave any residues or any traces in the environment. It’s an environmentally friendly product,” added Gramatikoff as reported in Plastics News Europe.
Lactips is in the final stages of developing the pellets for the detergent market with their dishwasher tablet coatings. Further developments are planned to build a manufacturing site in France towards the end of 2018.
Milk protein development in the food industry
Scientists in the US are already testing a similar milk protein on food packaging. “The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” says research leader Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc.
Although the researchers’ first attempt using pure casein resulted in a strong and effective oxygen blocker, it was relatively hard to handle and would dissolve in water too quickly. They made some improvements by incorporating citrus pectin into the blend to make the packaging even stronger, as well as more resistant to humidity and high temperatures.
After a few additional improvements, this casein-based packaging looks similar to store-bought plastic wrap, but it is less stretchy and is better at blocking oxygen. The material is edible and made almost entirely of proteins. Nutritious additives such as vitamins, probiotics and nutraceuticals could be included in the future. It does not have much taste, the researchers say, but flavourings could be added.
“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” says Laetitia Bonnaillie, Ph.D., co-leader of the study. “We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic — we would like to fix that.”
Because single-serve pouches would need to stay sanitary, they would have to be encased in a larger plastic or cardboard container for sale on store shelves to prevent them from getting wet or dirty.
In addition to being used as plastic pouches and wraps, this casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal. The spray also could line pizza or other food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging, or to serve as a lamination step for paper or cardboard food boxes or plastic pouches. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently banned the perfluorinated substances that used to coat these containers, so casein coatings could be a safe, biodegradable alternative.
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