Researchers at the University of Nottingham have developed biodegradable and edible cling film. The packaging is made from plant carbohydrates and proteins to replace polluting plastic materials and improve storage, safety and shelf life. Led by Professor Saffa Riffat, from the faculty of engineering, a team worked on plastic films derived from konjac flour and starch, cellulose or proteins that are fully edible. The researchers found that plant carbohydrate and proteins bond together into a special structure during the film-forming process. The network structure provides the film with the strength and transparent appearance for the film to be used as packaging materials.
Professor Riffat, a Fellow of the European Academy of Sciences and president of the World Society of Sustainable Energy Technologies, said: “While plastic materials have been in use for around a century, their poor degradability is now known to cause serious environmental harm.
« This has led to more stringent recycling targets and even bans coming into force.
“Queen Elizabeth, for example, banned plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates in February 2018, and the EU plans to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.
« We need to find degradable solutions to tackle plastic pollution, and this is what we are working on now.”
The project is jointly investigated by Marie Curie Research Fellow Professor Fatang Jiang, an expert in biodegradable polysaccharide materials for moisture control, thermal insulation and infiltration. He recently joined the University of Nottingham from Hubei University of Technology, in China, where part of the study is being worked on. Researchers found the bags could solve pollution issues as well as lengthening the shelf life of fruit and vegetables.
Professor Riffat said: “In addition to being edible, degradable, strong and transparent, the packaging materials we are working on have low gas permeability, making them more airtight.
« This feature cuts moisture loss, which slows down spoilage, and seals in the flavour. This is of great importance for the quality, preservation, storage and safety of foods.”
The team hope the market for the plant-based packaging will be supermarkets and food supply chains. They are also aiming to advance the technology for general packaging in construction, express delivery and magazines. The project, currently supported by the £220,000 Horizon 2020 Marie Curie fellowship, will last two years with the potential to extend for another three to five years if further funding is secured.