Perfect symmetry: EU project bids to transform fruit processing wastewater into juice packaging

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Perfect symmetry: EU project bids to transform fruit processing wastewater into juice packaging

Related tags: Sewage treatment, European union

An international coalition of experts is bidding to develop a groundbreaking bioplastic for juice packaging using materials extracted from wastewater generated during fruit processing.

The PHBottle project is a European Union-funded initiative that seeks to provide a closed loop sustainable packaging solution that cuts both costs and the environmental footprint of fruit processing sector.

Eight companies and four technology centres from across two continents are taking part in the €3m-scheme funded the EU’s 7th Framework Programme to deliver novel packaging which is biodegradable and incorporates anti-oxidant barrier technology to extend the shelf life of juices.

 “This project has a great symmetry with the waste generator becoming the provider and beneficiary of the new package, tailored to the need of its product,”​ Lurdes Soares, of project members European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN), told FoodProductionDaily.com.

Wastewater to packaging

The 42 month project, which kicked off in Valencia, Spain, at the end of last month, is aiming to solve two major challenges facing the food industry – wastewater management and the development of sustainable packaging.

The fruit processing sector creates over 34bn gallons of wastewater annually as a result of washing produce and the cleaning of equipment and facilities – which means treating the effluent is key challenge for the sector.

But the water contains huge quantities of organic waste in the form of sugars, which have huge potential as a valuable raw material for the production of bioplastics, said AIJN.

Three steps

The scheme has been divided into three phases and will apply the latest advances in microencapsulation, biotechnology and packaging technologies.

Phase one will focus on targetting microorganisms capable of converting organic residues from waste water into a biodegradable polymeric material PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate).

The second stage will see the scientists boost its barrier properties through the incorporation of cellulose fibres and ingredients encapsulated with antioxidant properties into the base substrate.

The aim of this work is to lengthen the shelf-life of the product, thereby increasing its marketing potential and consumption, added Soares.

Once its properties have been refined the initiative will move into the third phase to mould and use the material to produce packaging.

The final step will involve the validation and testing of the containers “by filling them with fruit juice from the same industry that generates the wastewater”,​ said AIJN.

Soares explained that work on stage one and two had already begun simultaneously.

“It isn’t necessary to complete stage one before moving onto the second phase​,” she said. “Project members from the two initial stages have undertaken a literature review and presented a roadmap of the task at the first project meeting last month.”

Life Cycle Analysis

Upon completion of the material a life cycle analysis (LCA) will be carried out to determine the environmental impact of the packaging during its entire lifetime – from raw materials used for its production, through to final disposal.

The aim is to create packaging that is 100% biodegradable, with minimal environmental impact and one that reduces wastewater treatment costs, said Soares.

They also intend to expand its use for other food applications as well as in the pharmaceutical and automotive sectors.

The project is being led by Spanish group ainia Technology Centre. Other members are:

• Aimplas (Plastic Technology Institute) and Cítricos y Refrescantes, S.A., Spain.

• European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN) and Omniform, S.A., Belgium

• TNO Technology Centre, The Netherlands:

• Silvel Limited, Bulgaria:

• Logoplaste Innovation Lab LDA, Portugal

• National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), Argentina

• Mega Empack S.A., Mexico

• Logoplaste do Brasil LTDA, Brazil

• Vanguardia SD de RL, Honduras

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