Australia‘s growing stockpile of packaging may soon be lowered with assistance from eco–friendly packaging created from vegetable waste.
In order to meet the Australian Government‘s target for all packaging to be recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, researchers from Victoria University have been researching the possibility of using agricultural waste from vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, celery, and zucchini for the production of affordable and easily compostable packaging, referred to as ‘biopackaging‘.
The global environment–friendly food packaging market is predicted to reach a value of around $184 billion by 2026, as per a report by Modor Intelligence, due to increasing bans on plastic and increasing consumer awareness.
To address this, Dr Marlene Cran and her team at VU‘s Werribee Campus have been using unusable produce provided by a nearby market–farm at Werribee South, such as stems and leaves, which are usually used as animal feed, composted, or sent to landfill.
The team has been able to create several food packaging products out of the waste vegetables, with celery having a high cellulose content that makes it suitable for food trays, while zucchini, broccoli, and lettuce can be processed into thick films that can be used for tray inserts and produce separators.
The root structure of mushrooms (mycelium) can also be grown on the partially dried waste materials to create a good replacement for styrofoam boxes. In addition, the team is also utilizing starch waste from yellow peas to make flexible films that can potentially replace plastic in a circular economy.
Dr Cran stated that it would be ideal for packages of protein powders or dried peas to be made of the leftover starch sourced from the vegetables inside the bag. Despite the lack of industry-grade testing facilities and the cost of testing alternative packaging, Dr Cran believes it is necessary to replace disposable packaging with sustainable natural products.
This research is funded by the Victorian government’s higher education state investment fund.