UK researchers develop edible and biodegradable food packaging

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University of Nottingham researchers have developed 100 percent biodegradable and edible food packaging made from plant carbohydrates and proteins.

The packaging has the potential to replace polluting plastics materials whilst improving storage, safety, and shelf life.

The research team worked on plastic films derived from konjac flour and starch, cellulose or proteins that are fully edible and harmless if accidentally eaten by people or animals, unlike health issues associated with microplastics and other plastic waste that make their way into the food chain.

The researchers found that plant carbohydrate and protein macromolecules bond together into a special network structure during the film-forming process, and the network structure provides the film with a required mechanical strength and transparent appearance for the film to be use as packaging materials.

Professor Saffa Riffat, from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, said: “While plastic materials have been in use for around a century, their poor degradability is now known to cause serious environmental harm. This has led to more stringent recycling targets and even bans coming into force. We need to find degradable solutions to tackle plastic pollution, and that is what we are working on.”

“In addition to being edible, degradable, strong and transparent, the packaging materials we are working on have low gas permeability, making them more air tight. This feature cuts moisture loss, which slows down spoilage, and seals in the flavour. This is of great importance for the quality, preservation, storage and safety of foods.”

The team will initially introduce the fully biodegradable bags made from the plant-based packaging materials at superstores and food supply chains with plans to expand it to general packaging in construction, express delivery and magazines.