Marga Fernández / 17 October 2016

Reuse 30% of the sugars in wastewater from the juice industry to produce the first prototype of active bio-based packaging

It is the first time a bioplastic packaging is obtained from the sugars contained in wastewater presenting the strength, stiffness, and antioxidant properties and other characteristic mechanical properties of a package.

After more than four years of research, the international consortium of the PHBOTTLE project has achieved the first worldwide prototype packaging made from a bioplastic material – PHB – obtained from the organic matter, primarily sugars, present in the wastewater of the juice industry.

Specifically, it is a bottle made with polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a polymer produced by bioproduction (microbial fermentation) in which certain bacteria use the sugars in the wastewater and synthesize this type of bioplastic.

During the fermentative processes performed with the juice industry wastewater, it was possible to convert up to 30% of the sugars contained in this effluent into PHB.

Bioplastic PHB is already available in the market, but this is the first time PHB is obtained from the sugars in the wastewater of the fruit juice industry.

The results of the R&D project PHBOTTLE, funded by the European Union, were presented today in Brussels at an international workshop organized by AINIA Technology Centre and the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN).

The application of the latest advances in biotechnology, packaging technology, microencapsulation and compounding made possible the development of this innovative package. Moreover, this project demonstrated the value of organic waste from the juice industry as raw material to produce packaging for its products.

Antioxidant-containing package as a result of microencapsulation

The bioplastic material obtained has improved properties, such as antioxidants, which extend the shelf-life of the juice. Concretely, microencapsulation technology was used to produce capsules with antioxidants such as limonene, which is an active compound present in orange peel.

These capsules were incorporated into the PHB compound used to manufacture the final bottle, thus obtaining an active packaging whereby the antioxidant agent is slowly released, delaying the oxidation of the juice.

Rice hulls to improve packaging strength

In addition, other types of food industry waste were used to improve the strength and other mechanical properties of the material. Cellulose microfibers were produced from rice hulls and used to improve the rigidity of the packaging.

 From waste generator to beneficiary of a new bio-based package

The PHB bottle prototype obtained was used to package the juice produced by the wastewater generating industry itself, thus providing an innovative and comprehensive solution to the problems of waste management and environmental impact of this sector. A solution for the future based on the circular economy.

Furthermore, this bioplastic can be used in other industrial sectors such as cosmetics, ophthalmology, footwear, computer parts, pharmaceutical or automotive.

Biodegradability and composting

The various biodegradability and compostability tests carried out throughout this R&D project have shown that, under the study conditions, 60% of the PHB bottle obtained is degraded over a period of 9 weeks, compared to the 100 years on average required for a conventional petroleum-derived plastic container.

This PHB bottle can also be decomposed in composting plants, producing compost and CO2.

The EU’s commitment for more sustainable packaging

The PHBOTTLE project, coordinated by AINIA, is a pioneer in its field in the development of the Circular Economy concept promoted by the EU in its commitment for innovation and sustainable technological development, under the 7th Framework Programme. It is composed of an international consortium that includes: the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN), the Spanish company Citresa (part of the multinational Suntory), Logoplaste Innovation Lab (Portugal), Logoplaste (Brazil), Omniform (Belgium), Sivel Ltd (Bulgaria) and the company Mega Empack (Mexico) as well as the technology centres TNO (The Netherlands), Aimplas (Spain) and INTI (Argentina).

In developed countries, food packaging accounts for 60% of all packaging, becoming the main generator of waste. In 2012, each person in the EU generated 156.8 kg of packaging waste. This amount varied between 45 kg per capita in Bulgaria and 206.2 kg per capita in Germany. Plastic containers account for 19% of this waste, and so each EU inhabitant generated 29.8 kg of plastic waste. In total, 15.1 million tons of plastic packaging waste was generated.

The results of the PHBOTTLE project represent an innovative and sustainable response to the needs of the juice industry, thanks to the opportunities offered by new technologies and the development of new packaging materials obtained from organic sources as an alternative to oil. With these new applications the waste generator, in this case the juice industry, becomes the recipient of a new bio-based product.

Marga Fernández (52 articles)

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