Harvard University and Rutgers introduce plant-based food wrap designed to replace plastics

USA – Harvard University and Rutgers scientists have developed biodegradable, spray-on food coating to protect foods against pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms and transportation damage.

The new solution reduces plastic food packaging and associated waste and could potentially reduce the adverse environmental impact of plastic as well as protect human health.

The research was conducted by scientists at Harvard University, US, and funded by the Harvard-Nanyang Technological University with the Singapore Sustainable Nanotechnology Initiative.

In a journal article summarizing their research, Yi Wang, Jaya Borgatta and Jason C. White explain that this packaging technology uses polysaccharide/biopolymer-based fibers.

The material is spun like a spider web from a heating device much like a hair dryer and then “shrink-wrapped” over solid foods, for example, an avocado or a sirloin steak.

The result of the newly-developed coating provides a durable and resistant outer layer that not only offers protection from bruising but also fights spoilage.

According to Innova Market Insights, only 14% of consumers are optimistic about the future use of shrink wrapping, while more than 40% of consumers worldwide consider shelf life the most important factor in a purchase.

In line with this, the result of the newly-developed coating provides a durable and resistant outer layer that not only offers protection from bruising but also fights spoilage.

Antimicrobial agents in the material prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms such as E. Coli and listeria, resulting in longer shelf life.

The research paper includes a description of the technology the wrap uses: a process called Focused Rotary Jet Spinning produces biopolymer. Quantitative assessments show that the coating extended the shelf life of avocados by 50%.

Additionally, according to the study, the coating can be removed, rinsed off with water and incorporated with soil where it will degrade within three days.

Dr. Philip Demokritou of Rutgers University asserts that the research team “has come up with a scalable technology, which enables us to turn biopolymers, which can be derived as part of a circular economy from food waste, into smart fibers that can wrap food directly. This is part of a new generation of ‘smart’ and ‘green’ food packaging.”

The new packaging is targeted at addressing a serious environmental issue: the proliferation of petroleum-based plastic products in the waste stream.

Efforts to curb the use of plastic, such as legislation in states like New Jersey to eliminate plastic shopping bag distribution at grocery stores, can help,” concludes Demokritou.

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