04. Jun 2019
A team of researchers at the KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology has created a fully-compostable packaging for food products from bioplastic, which disintegrates with the help of microorganisms
“We are used to getting 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.
The bioplastic created at the KTU laboratories is made from cellulose – a natural material, the main building block of plant cells’ membranes. Usually derived from wood, 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.
He admits that being environmentally-friendly has its cost – the biodegradable package created at KTU is several times more expensive than usual. However, the growing number of eco-conscious users is encouraging industries to take an interest in biodegradable packaging alternatives.