Food Waste as Sustainable Packing Materials

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India being the second largest populous country generates huge amount of food waste accounting to 40-65% of the total municipal solid waste generated. Nearly, 40% of the food produced in India is wasted without reaching the deprived. The wasted food being organic in nature can be an easy carbon source for a plethora of pathogenic microorganisms to feed upon and cause severe hazardous repercussions to the mankind and the surrounding biota. It is inevitable to tap this waste and use it as a potential resource for sustainable application namely, as bioplastics for green food packaging, since‘food’ and ‘packaging’ always go hand in hand. Moreover, the key to minimize the exponentially generatingfood waste and its impact on the environment is effective packaging. Also, this novel approach of packing food with chemically or biologically treated food waste derived biomaterial is an interesting alternative to food waste going to landfill, which by itself is a long term pollutant. The production of these eco-friendly biodegradable materialswould benefit theIndian economy in terms of curtailing the cost incurred towards waste management with an added perk of waste to wealth conversion.

On the other hand, the petrochemical plastics or the conventional fossil fuel based plastics which rule the local markets as food packaging materialsare non-biodegradable in nature. The toxins released from these plastics pose high risk of cancer, heart ailments, infertility, learning disability and attention deficit disorders in humans apart from being the major form of debris in the environment. Governmentof India has restricted the use of conventional plastics below 40 microns to control the existing pollution levels and instead introduced bioplastics into the market through public private partnerships. However, bioplastics merely occupy 0.2% of the global polymer market which signals the need for more competent technologies and entrepreneurs to find a way forward.

Nevertheless, green food packaging is a fast growing sector and falls well within the go-green concept burgeoning across the world. This approach has notable advantages over petrochemical plastics; some of them are highlighted below:

  • Biodegradable and non-toxic: Biodegradation is a microbial intervened process where the micro biota present in the environment acts on the organic polymer matrix to convert it into carbon dioxide (CO2), water and compost. The food packaging materials being biodegradable in nature can get readily reduced and decomposed at the same rate as the food they pack without leaving any trace unlike the fossil based plastics.
  • Low carbon foot print: The food packaging materials are low on carbon footprint.
  • Reducible, reusable and Recyclable: It is effortless to handle green plastics as they can be easily shredded at large scale using industrial shredders and recycled sustainably for reuse. On the contrary, only 5-7% of the conventional plastics are generally recycled.
  • Lesser CO2 emissions: Along with the improved shelf-life of the packed food due to the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties imparted by the specialised green polymer materials, these also emit significantly lower amounts of CO2 both during their synthesis and breakdown in comparison to their petrochemical counterpart.
  • Product image: Improves product image in customer’s viewpoint along with meeting the clean environment goals.

It is today which decides the future of the next generations. A shift in research towards eco-friendly food waste derived packaging materials is one of the significant contributions being made by the scientists to save the Mother Nature but the actual execution of this idea lies with us all.

Author: Dr Althuri Avanthi, Postdoctoral Fellow, BEES Lab, CEEFF, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad.

References:

  • Ying Jian Chen (2014) Bioplastics and their role in achieving global sustainability. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2014, 6(1):226-231.
  • Packaging and Wasted Food (Web). Executive Summary: Environmental Footprint Literature Review. Available from: http://www.oregon.gov/deq/mm/food/Pages/Product-Category-Level-Footprints.aspx. Accessed on 13/08/2018.
  • India Wastes As Much Food As United Kingdom Consumes: Study (Web). Business world. Available from: http://www.businessworld.in/article/India-Wastes-As-Much-Food-As-United-Kingdom-Consumes-Study/27-08-2017-124858/. Accessed on 13/08/2018.

Posted By : ScienceIndia Administrator
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