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Unlocking the potential of Sustainable BiodegradabLe Packaging

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - USABLE PACKAGING (Unlocking the potential of Sustainable BiodegradabLe Packaging)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2020-12-01 do 2022-11-30

The project is addressing the need of the market for high performance packaging to substitute fossil counterparts without compromise for the consumer, whilst building a sustainable and circular value chain. Currently, the packaging industry still uses mostly plastic materials that are derived from fossil fuel sources and not biodegradable, i.e. petrochemical plastics. To overcome this, the USABLE PACKAGING project is developing and establishing a new value chain for bioplastics. This is based on low-cost and widely-available feedstocks, such as by-products and side streams from the food processing industry. It will convert the feedstocks into poly-hydroxy-alkanoates (PHA), such as poly-hydroxy-butyrate (PHB) and poly-hydroxy-butyrate-co-valerate (PHBV) specifically, which is being tuned to specific packaging needs and specifications. PHB and PHBV are then functionalised by a platform of advanced technologies to obtain bio-based sustainable materials. These will be aimed to replace the currently used fossil-based materials to prepare high-performance packaging items such as biscuit boxes and bread bags, disposables cluttery, frozen bags, bag-in-box packaging, pharmaceutical packaging, agriculture packaging and plastic bottles, while retaining biodegradable characteristics. Therefore, the use of this technology would permit to address the problem of plastic packaging waste providing a new one and more sustainable end-of-life.

Usable activities aim to support new market opportunities and growth of companies while addressing environment and societal issues. They contribute to promote and/or stabilize society confidence toward bioplastics used for food and drink packaging preventing plastic pollution. In this respect, the activities initiated are aimed at demonstrating the potential offered by a reasoned formulation of PHA-based materials incorporating raw materials from agricultural resources and at proving their safety in the targeted use pathways (particularly in the packaging sector) but also for domestic use as, in particular, substitute materials for single-use tableware in compliance with the European standards describing the methods and criteria of biodegradability. Usable carries a proof of concept for the opening or even the necessary conversion of the plastic packaging market and consequently improves the understanding, awareness and engagement of all stakeholders on the environmental and economic benefits of such development.

The overall objetives of USABLE PACKAGING are:
• Develop high performance bio-based packaging environmentally sustainable and suitable for organic recycling
• Improve circularity by eco-design over existing fossil-based and bio-based plastics over the full range of applications and so including complex multilayer structures and functionalities to achieve high barrier and high mechanical performances at the same time, along with versatility of design.
• Ensure the end-of-life phase is wholly sustainable by creating a fully-circular, vertically-integrated supply chain.
• Create genuinely new and innovative design of packaging and production, by developing market back applications, to meet specifications of large enterprises partners in the first line.
• Deliver packaging materials capable of biodegradability in different environments, including marine and soil settings.
Specifically, the most significant scientific and/or technological achievements per WP are:

WP1 has generated a solid database of information that has been used in RP2 as basis for the exploitation activities in WP5 and also has provided guidelines for the technical WPs, in particular WP4. The information covered by WP1 are related to: Biomass feedstock and availability, cost for PHA production – baseline and specification and market requirements for products developed by USABLE packaging.

For WP2, the key points have been the assessment of the acidogenic fermentation potential of 9 food industry by-products (UNIROMA), finding reground Pasta (RP) as a good by-product to be fermented into volatile fatty acids. These are ideal substrates for PHA production with mixed microbial cultures (MMC) and were used as feedstock for MMC-PHA production at pilot plant (INNOVEN). The set up and optimization of different routes for PHA production were also developed.

In WP3, the most relevant technical/scientific achievements consisted in the realization of high-performance functional compounds by different means such as through blending, photocrosslinking and electrospinning. The developed materials have improved current properties of material benchmarks and so a downselection was carried out to incorporate them into WP4 pacakging prototypes.

In WP4, packaging prototypes were developed in collaboration with subcontractors by using commercial PHA and PHBV70 from the project. Particularly, it was possible to obtain reusable plates, packaging films, frozen packaging films, multilayer packaging film for bag in box, Nest and tube pharmaceutical packaging, and lastly, textiles as prototype for seed bags. In parallel to these activities, WP4 analysed the end-of-life of the materials and prototype realized in terms of biodegradation in different environments and organic recycle. Other activities performed in WP4 have been the LCA analysis and the collection of data about REACH compliance of materials and packaging product prototypes.

In WP5-the contribution has been to set up and manage a large stakeholder platform as well as to develop the product portfolio and the exploitation roadmap for the project. WP5 is the bridge through the technical achievements and the perspective for market exploitation at the end of the project and sets also some key milestones that are recommended as follow up after project end, in order to bridge the gap to full scale implementation.

Dissemination and communication activities under WP6 consisted in updating the Communication and Dissemination Plan (CDP) and the website, as well as dissemination of activities. There are currently 15 papers listed, with one more published and another due shortly. Three press releases were issued covering key milestones in the project between M18 and M42, including the manufacturing of frozen bags and a letter by project Coordinator Chema Lagaron to the EU Institutions; Three newsletters were published and in October 2021, a Vox Pop video gauging public perception of bioplastics was produced and disseminated via the UP website, YouTube channel and press release. Three stakeholders’ webinars in French, Italian and Portuguese were organised, recorded and posted on the UP website and YouTube channel as well. Two articles were published in political and trade media – with a reach of over 450K. The project was promoted across all major social media platforms and culminated with the hosting of an end-of-project event at the Ecomondo Green Technology Expo in Rimini, Italy.
We have achieved a set of conceptual prototypes for each of the selected industrial applications that match the required properties currently offered by their current petroleum-based counterparts. This entails the development of a disruptive, beyond the state of the art, toolbox of organic recyclable set of materials.
These concepts have been assessed in terms of Life Cycle Analysis and biodegradability, settling the next generation of bio-based packaging systems.
Achievement materials obtained within USABLE along with the last consortium picture at ECOMONDO