Sustainable food packaging

Biodegradable packaging has never been suitable for foods. An innovative coating could change all that.

Fresh foods and convenience products are often sold in packaging to fulfill hygiene requirements and maintain freshness. However, this packaging contributes significantly to environmental pollution, as it is usually made out of plastic. Though biodegradable packaging materials have been available for some time now, they are not suitable for widespread use with foods, as these materials do not offer sufficient protection from water vapor, oxygen and other flavors.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS and the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC are working with 11 other partners in the EU’s HyperBioCoat project to improve the characteristics of bioplastics. “We want to develop a bio-based, biodegradable coating for rigid and flexible packaging made out of plastics and natural materials, so that these can also be used for foods, cosmetics and medical applications,” explains Dr. Stefan Hanstein of Fraunhofer IWKS. “It’s important that the raw materials of the packaging do not compete with food production.” Researchers at Fraunhofer IWKS have dedicated themselves to extracting and chemically modifying branched polysaccharides, most notably hemicellulose, which are tailored to meet the high requirements of the new coatings. Working with an extraction pilot plant, they are using pretreated fruit residue from juice and pectin production (e.g. apples and raspberries) as feedstock.

Two material solutions have already achieved prototype status, one of which is being developed for commercial viability by a partner company – a start-up – in collaboration with a larger company.