The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is collaborating on a project to cut plastic pollution by driving forward the development of food packaging that is less damaging to the environment.
Working alongside industry partners, CPI is using its polymer chemistry research and materials processing and characterisation capability to support the development of alternatives to commonly used fossil-based polymers, which cannot be consumed by nature and have resulted in the continued pollution of land and seas when leaked to the natural environment.
Plastic packaging delivers a number of benefits, such as reducing food waste and enabling globalised distribution, however, waste mismanagement has resulted in rising global pollution, particularly in the world’s oceans.
The project will develop next generation packaging that continue to prolong the shelf-life of foodstuffs, such as meats and salads, but, crucially, they will be made from biodegradable materials designed to degrade in a natural environment.
The project has received funding from the Innovate UK programme, Plastics Innovation: Towards Zero Waste, which promotes the development of new polymers, processes and recycling regimes to reduce the environmental impact of plastics while increasing UK productivity and economic growth.
CPI – which is headquartered at the Wilton Centre and has formulation laboratory at the North-East Technology Park (NETPark), in Sedgefield – will work alongside Gateshead-based SME iPac Packaging Innovations, Avondale Foods, Cranswick Plc and their customers, and use its formulation and industrial biotechnology capability to develop new biodegradable packaging with better end-of-life options, such as composting and anaerobic digestion.
If leaked to the environment, this packaging is intended to bio-degrade quickly using Earth’s natural biological eco-systems.
CPI business manager Dan Noakes said: “We need to adopt new thinking if we are to overcome the pressing issue of plastics-persistence in our natural environment.
“This project tackles the issue head-on. We hope to positively impact the sustainability of the food industry and influence environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions made by the consumer.”
Harry Reed, managing director at iPac Packaging Innovations, said: “Currently, traditional polymers such as PET offer the most effective medium for food packaging, while their stable physical properties allow for recycling and re-use.
“However, mismanagement of waste streams too frequently results in plastic pollution. Now is the time to analyse the way in which we use packaging materials and explore options that will give the minimum negative impact if leaked into the environment.
“We are delighted to be working with CPI, Avondale Foods and Cranswick Plc on this project.”