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Step aside single-use packaging, bioplastics are h...

Step aside single-use packaging, bioplastics are here

Researchers at Victoria University have recently been examining ways to use agricultural waste from vegetable to create affordable and easily compostable packaging out of bioplastics.

The Australian Government has set a target for all packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025, so this research project could not have come at a better time.

The bioplastics that the research team has been producing is made out of leaves, stems, and rejected produce in the place of traditional petroleum-based plastics.

Dr Marlene Cran and her team have been working in the research labs at VU’s Werribee Campus, turning the unusable produce from Werribee South market-farm into a wide variety of different packaging materials.

If not used for this sort of initiative, the waste produce would typically be used in animal feed, composed, or sent to landfill—where it decomposes and produces methane gas.

VU researchers found celery provides an excellent base for food trays due to its high cellulose content. Zucchini, broccoli, and lettuce, on the other hand, are great for processing into thick films that can be used as tray inserts or produce separators.

As for the stalwart that is Styrofoam, it can be replaced by growing the root structure of mushrooms (mycelium) on the partially dried waste materials.

“In future there could be protein powders or dried peas sold in a bag made from the leftover starch sourced from the vegetables… inside the bag. That’s the dream,” said Dr Cran.

“Designing something that can compete on price and effectiveness with plastic and foam is the work of decades. But the investment needs to start now,” she continued.

The team’s ultimate aim is to do as little as possible to the produce when creating the bioplastics (e.g., intensive drying or using excessive additives), so that the processes are as natural and inexpensive as possible—and easier to scale up in the future.


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