Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

'Whey' better plastics for food packaging

A recent EU-funded project developed a more cost-effective and recyclable oxygen barrier layer for use in plastic packaging.
'Whey' better plastics for food packaging
Food must be suitably packaged to prevent exposure to oxygen, which can decrease flavour, colour and nutrient content as well as shelf life. Current packaging materials consist of synthetic polyolefin films coated with additional synthetic polymers to create an oxygen barrier. Unfortunately, these packaging materials are difficult to recycle and they can be expensive.

Whey, a biopolymer by-product of cheese production, represents an alternative material with which to coat plastic films. The 'Whey protein-coated plastic films to replace expensive polymers and increase recyclability' (WHEYLAYER) project looked into developing this alternative.

Researchers were able to successfully design a whey coating with a barrier layer and an active layer. The barrier layer is created by converting sweet and sour whey into whey protein isolates (WPIs), which can then be supplemented with plasticisers. The active layer contains antimicrobials or antioxidants to extend the shelf life of the packaged food.

A risk assessment showed that using the new material does not compromise overall food safety. In addition, the oxygen and water vapour transmission rates were significantly lower than that of other biopolymers.

The newly developed coating also improves recyclability and can easily be removed using enzymes. Project partners ensured that the recycling process is easily integrable into recycling plants and that recyclers are educated about how to handle the new material.

WHEYLAYER has also created an efficient way to use discarded whey, which, if left untreated, can cause serious water pollution. It is also expected to benefit the plastics industry by decreasing the amount of plastic litter produced. Overall then, project results promise both positive economic effects, in terms of food preservation, and environmental advantages.

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