Australian researchers have used vegetable waste to make packaging

  • 2022-12-01

Researchers at Australia's Victoria University (VU) have been investigating how affordable, easily composted packaging made from vegetable waste such as zucchini, broccoli, celery and lettuce could help reduce the need for single-use plastics.


The work is being done as the Australian government aims for all packaging to be reusable, recycled or composted by 2025.


The global market for "biopackaging," or environmentally friendly food packaging, is expected to reach about $184 billion by 2026 as more countries implement plastic bans and consumer awareness increases.


Polymer expert Dr. Marlene Cran and her team have been developing a drug in a research lab on the VU Werribee campus, using leftover products from nearby Werribee South market farms.


The team uses leaves and stems from leftover or discarded products that could otherwise be used in animal feed or sent to landfills to create a variety of food packaging products.


To make the process as natural, economical and simple as possible so it can be scaled up in the future, the team aims to use as few interventions as possible, such as intensive drying or using excessive additives.


Researchers from VU found that celery is high in fiber, making it perfect for food trays, while lettuce, zucchini and broccoli can be processed into thick membranes that can be used as tray inserts or product separators.


Partially dried waste, mycelium, and mushroom root structures can be used to make excellent alternatives to plastic foam boxes.


Off the farm, the team is using starch scraps from the yellow pea protein extraction process to create a flexible film that could replace plastic in a true circular economy.


"In the future, there may be protein powders or dried peas sold in bags made from leftover starch in vegetables... In the bag, "Dr Cran said. "That's the dream."


She claims it makes sense to replace single-use packaging with sustainable, natural products, despite the lack of industrial-grade testing facilities and the cost of doing so.


VU's project to make packaging from vegetable waste was funded by the Victorian government's State Investment Fund for Higher Education.

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