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Biodegradable packaging with antioxidant properties made from wastewater sugars

July 2, 2012
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An international consortium led by ainia Technology Centre and made up of eight companies and four research centers is working on the development of new packaging for juices, which provides answers to two of the most pressing current problems in food industry: the management of wastewater and the production of biodegradable packaging for its products.

The aim is clear: to provide sustainable and comprehensive solutions to environmental problems of the juice industry and attaining to add value to waste, transforming it into new materials with new functions.

The PHBOTTLE project, funded by the 7th Framework Programme, aims to produce a new packaging for juices, within 42 months, which is biodegradable and has antioxidant properties (to extend the life of the foods); a packaging made from sugars and other residues rich in carbon, nitrogen and oxygen present in the waste water from the juice industry.

This project will apply the latest advances in microencapsulation, biotechnology and packaging technologies. An international consortium of eight companies and four technology centers, coordinated by ainia Technology Centre, is working on the project:
  • In Spain: ainia Technology Centre, Aimplas (Plastic Technology Institute) and Cítricos y Refrescantes, S.A.

  • In Belgium: European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN) and Omniform, S.A.,

  • In The Netherlands: TNO Technology Centre

  • In Bulgaria: Silvel Limited

  • In Portugal: Logoplaste Innovation Lab LDA

  • In Argentina: National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI)

  • In Mexico: Mega Empack S.A.

  • In Brazil: Logoplaste do Brasil LTDA

  • In Honduras: Vanguardia SD de RL
The project begins from a reality: The juice industries consume a large amount of water, both for cleaning of equipment and facilities as well as for washing of fruits, etc.

The industry must treat such waste water which contains huge quantities of organic waste in the form of sugars, which in turn are a valuable raw material for the production of bioplastics (plastics generated from organic waste and therefore degradable).

Fruit processing industries in Europe play a major role in residual wastewater management. In recent years, the global volumes of wastewater production in this type of industry has increased to 34,200 million gallons, considering general processing of fruits such as apples, apricots, cherries, citrus or peaches.

In its initial phase, PHBOTTLE project is identifying microorganisms capable of converting organic residues from waste water into a biodegradable polymeric material (plastic), the PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate).

Once this material is obtained, its properties will be improved in a second phase of the project, with the incorporation of cellulose fibers and ingredients encapsulated with antioxidant properties. The aim is that the product obtained, when containing a food, is able to lengthen the life of the food and therefore increase its marketing and consumption window.

In a third phase, this material (after strengthening and improvement of its properties) will be molded and then used to produce bottles of juice. Finally, these bottles will be validated and tested, by filling them with fruit juice from the same industry that generates the wastewater. This closes the cycle: the waste generator becomes the beneficiary of the new package, tailored to the need of its product.

Another environmental objective of the project is the life cycle analysis (LCA) of the new packaging, which is to cover all phases of the project. The aim is to determine the environmental impact during the entire lifetime of the generated material: from the raw materials used for its production, until the moment the final packaging is disposed of, in order to achieve a packaging that is a 100% biodegradable, with minimal environmental impact.

The new material will also be applied to non-food packaging, mainly packaging for pharmaceuticals and cleaning products as well as plastics for the automotive industry.  

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