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Waste products could become valuable packaging

2 August 2011

Off-spec potatoes and waste products from processing plants could become a valuable source of innovative packaging to replace high-tech plastics used for red meat sales.

The three-year project, co-funded by DEFRA and DECC, already has AHDB Potatoes backing and the support of several packaging manufacturers and Sainsbury’s. Dr Fowler is now seeking a potato industry partner to supply the waste material, after which work will begin.

“Using potato industry wastage would reduce landfill from consumer and supermarket waste and add value to the potato sector into the bargain”, says Paul Fowler, director of the Welsh Institute for Natural Resources at Bangor University.

“Red meat packaging currently uses plastics that are technically difficult to recycle due to the use of multi-layer films and the constraints of animal by-products regulations,” he explains.

“Sustainable development will ultimately require waste-free packaging, and potato starch has been identified as a key material for making compostable packaging at a competitive price.

“Once used, rather than being thrown away into landfill, bio-based packaging could be used in anaerobic digesters to produce compost and energy.” Out-of-date supermarket packs could also be used for the same purpose, currently impossible unless all the plastic packaging is removed, he adds.

The project will kick off with the development of an absorbent polyfoam to replace the soggy paper strips currently found at the bottom of many meat trays.  The aim is to make this an integral part of the tray, sandwiched between two layers of bioplastic to maintain rigidity.

“Paper often gets waterlogged, whereas polyfoam would soak up the juice inside the tray, leaving the surface of the meat dry,” says Dr Fowler.

“The next step is to produce gas-tight biofilms to contain and protect the meat, replacing the high-tech, multi-layered plastic film currently used to meet the demands of modified atmosphere packaging, which helps keep meat looking attractive, tender and fresh”, says Dr Fowler.

“We can now produce bio-polyester film from starch, and the aim is to develop this to achieve a modified atmosphere packaging material with even better vapour barrier properties that will result in improved shelf life.”

Dr Fowler would like to hear from businesses who could supply off-specification potato or waste products arising from potato processing and would be willing to attend the project meetings, which would be held twice a year. Interested parties can contact Paul on 01248 370588 or p.a.fowler@bangor.ac.uk.

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