reportFocus Report 2010: Nanotechnology for Biodegradable and Edible Food Packaging
2.2 Executive Summary
Food Packaging Trends – new functionalities and greener products
An evolving food packaging sector – opportunities for nanomaterials?
Historically, packaging has been developed to protect food from heat, light, moisture, oxygen, microorganisms, insects and dirt. Food preservation has also been a key requirement. In the past few decades we have seen an increase in the required functionalities of prolonging the shelf life of foods by controlling microbial, enzymatic and biochemical reactions of the internal environment of the packaging via a number of strategies such as oxygen removal, controlled release of salts, carbon dioxide etc.
Other drivers alongside food protection/preservation include containment and waste reduction, convenience packaging, traceability and tamper indication. These requirements for broader functionality have provided the stimulus for a number of fields of material development:
• Advanced food contact materials (FCMs) incorporating nanomaterials to improve packaging properties such as temperature and moisture stability, flexibility, barrier properties etc.;
• Active packaging (internal environment control including interacting with food contained within); and
• Smart packaging (including functionalities such as trace & track and indication of authenticity)
• Biodegradable packaging materials
Nanotechnologies offer promising innovations for these broad functional requirements. In particular, nanocomposites promise enormous potential for a number of these, and we are seeing the first products on the market. Examples of products include Imperm® for CO2 release reduction (Nanocor® Inc), Aegis® OX a barrier nylon resin for oxygen scavenging (Honeywell) and Durethan® KU2-2601 (Bayer AG) for enhanced barrier properties. Examples of biopolymer based nanocomposites include NanoBioTer® and Degradal® (in development) which incorporate nanoscale additives for controlled or accelerated compostability and biodegradability.
The ObservatoryNANO has reported on all four of these broad functionalities (see www.observatory-nano.eu); however, of these one particular area is attracting particular interest, that of nanotechnology enabled bio-based polymers for biodegradable packaging and edible films. The area of bioplastics is garnering increasing interest due to improved processing and the potential of advanced composites. The field is driven by factors including:
• High cost of fossil fuels: Although there are clear environmental and sustainability benefits of bio-based polymers, it is the rising prices of crude oil and natural gas that are driving the economic based assessment. This, in line with the other two driving forces (outlined below) may provide the impetus needed to make a transition to bio-based plastics.
• Waste Management: This encompasses new initiatives for the decrease in agricultural waste (or finding novel uses for it), for example Europe's fruit and vegetable industries generate about 30 million tonnes of waste a year . Another example is the recent move by the UK Government who stated that that in 10 year’s time, 75 per cent of all household waste should be recycled, “Early next year we will consult on what recyclable and compostable items should be banned from landfill and how a ban will work,” said a statement from for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
• Environmental sustainability and Agricultural management: As with all industries, there is pressure to be both environmentally, and economically, sustainable in the long term. Therefore there is a drive to create renewable materials, and agricultural based materials hold promise.
Why is this dubbed a topic of special interest by the ObservatoryNANO?
Through the activities of the ObservatoryNANO we have seen that nanotechnologies, and in particular nanomaterials, promise solutions to some of the performance issues of bioplastics for food and drink packaging purposes. Improved functionalities and novel packaging concepts are enabled by advances in nanomaterial research and processing technologies. This means that natural polymers, such as sugars and proteins, can be combined with nanoclay and bio-based nanomaterials (such as cellulose nanofibres) to create potentially non-toxic, biodegradable and biocompatible materials – which some have dubbed as “green nanocomposites”.
However, the combination of nanomaterials with bioplastics (for the remainder of this report we shall use the term biopolymer) brings with it new technical challenges as well as waste management and regulatory issues. This report will provide an analysis of the nanotechnology research underway in this domain and identifies some of the economic, regulatory and environmental issues, and opportunities surrounding nano-enabled biopolymer packaging innovations. This should provide a first entrance point to the assessment of this domain and enable a more effective benefit/risk analysis.
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