Every single minute a truck’s worth of plastic enters our oceans, and this waste doesn’t just stay in our water, it goes into seafood, our salt, it is even found in melting Arctic ice. And this does not even consider the plastic buried in landfill and other disposal sites. It is clear that business must go further and faster to tackle the plastics crisis. And yes, we have seen some major progress with the use of alternative materials, biodegradability and recycling in lowering our domestic environmental footprint.
But there is one very clear problem lurking in our kitchens that is not in line with the general growth of sustainable materials – black plastic. Usually found in the form of ready meal trays, its carbon black pigment renders it non -recyclable and with consumption of this type of meal continuing to grow throughout Europe (6.5 billion eaten a year) the quantity of this plastic ending up in landfill is huge. But now, Project Fresh, a three-party consortium supported by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) has developed an urgently needed alternative to this particularly pernicious packaging.
Bio-Based World News’, Luke Upton, spoke exclusively with Steve Davey, of Huhtamaki, its European Project Manager. “The project began in around 2017, with a clear goal of solving this black plastic problem by creating a renewable alternative to these existing fossil-based plastic trays. After an extensive period of research, we are using Durapulp, a bio-composite which is a mixture of cellulose pulp and a biopolymer.”
The packaging is food safe, and is fully bio-based and, biodegradable. The Fresh product has successfully been trialled with a large European supermarket, trialling continues later this year.
Steve tells me there has been a strong rise in interest in alternatives to fossil-based plastics, as consumers become increasingly aware of packaging waste and this message is passed onto the brands themselves who are changing as a result. But although the desire for change is there, the project is not without challenges: “The product we are developing as an alternative to black plastics trays, will for the time being cost more.
“We are in the early stages of development, improved technical and functional properties are ongoing. It needs to be able to manage different foods and cooking temperatures whilst maintaining rigidity and solidity throughout the supply chain. Additional benefits of our product is that it is not as hot to handle when removed from the oven or microwave, we aim to be 10% lighter than the fossil alternative and the top seal film lid is able to be removed easily.”
In addition to the better performance aspects Steve had outlined, the Fresh product should offer an improved environmental footprint over the product life-cycle than the traditional fossil-based packaging material. As with most projects within the bio-economy, partnerships are key. Huhtamaki ( @HuhtamakiGroup ) , Södra ( @sodra ) and Saladworks ( @saladworks ) all bring their expertise, but the project has also been greatly supported by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-Based Industries Consortium (BIC) focused on developing the European bio-based economy.
Steve tells us more: “We have worked with BBI JU ( @BBI2020 ) for three years now and their help has made a big difference. They have supported our learnings and the mistakes we have made have not been as costly. Their strength is being real experts in this area. We couldn’t have got to the stage where we are without them.”
The black plastic problem is a massive one, and it is fantastic to see the consortium tackling its technical challenge directly. With further trials planned, hopefully Project Fresh and its bio-based alternative will help see black plastic phase out and be viewed as an outdated part of our daily consumption.
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