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Researchers in Europe have developed a prototype for bioplastic juice packaging developed from the organic material found in wastewater from the juice industry.
Though convenient, plastic packaging from the food and beverage industry generates an enormous amount of waste that is often not biodegradable. The hunt is on for more sustainable packaging materials, and one alternative may come from an unlikely source: wastewater from the juice industry.
Researchers in Europe have developed a new prototype for bioplastic juice packaging made from the organic matter created as a waste byproduct of juice processing, which is rich in fermentable sugars glucose, fructose, and maltose. The project, titled PHBOTTLE, is made from the biodegradable bioplastic material polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). The prototype was developed over the course of four years of research and development coordinated by the AINIA Technology Center (Spain).
Wastewater from juice processing can contain a concentration of fermentable sugars reaching 70% of the total organic load, containing nearly 20 g/l of fermentable sugars, explains Ana Valera, PhD, project coordinator at AINIA Technology Center’s new products department.
“For this reason, juice-processing wastewater is a good candidate as a cheap feedstock for PHB bioproduction,” Valera tells Nutritional Outlook. “Besides, water management in the juice industry is very important due to environmental impact-hence [the] PHBOTTLE project can contribute to [reducing] this environmental impact by reusing the wastewater as culture medium for PHB bioproduction.”
Early studies have suggested that PHB could be recycled like other plastic packaging materials polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyactic acid (PLA) with existing infrastructure in Europe, Valera says, although further research is necessary to see if it meets the European requirements for recycled plastic materials.
Packaging waste accounts for more than 73 million tons of waste generated annually in the European Union-one third of all municipal solid waste-with food packaging representing 60% of all packaging, according to the PHBOTTLE developers. As a biodegradable alternative to petroleum-based plastics, PHB could offer a more sustainable packaging option while also repurposing juice wastewater-an eco-friendly double whammy. And once the production process is optimized, the cost of PHBOTTLE may be comparable with conventional plastic bottles, Valera says.
Aside from juices and beverages, PHB has also been studied for other non-food packaging and non-packaging applications, such as cosmetic packaging, household packaging, or caps for car batteries, Valera says.
Nutritional Outlook Magazine