In a world focused on dealing with COVID-19, addressing the numerous pressing environmental issues that are putting our planet and the human race at risk is all the more relevant.
It certainly makes us realise how vulnerable we all are and should spur every one of us to tidy up the way we manage our finite resources. Take global food wastage, whilst some progress has been made the figures are still terrifying. Currently, it has been estimated that 1.6 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually. According to World Food Waste one ton of food waste prevented could save 4.2 tons of CO2 equivalent.
Consumer demand for fresh, convenient and healthy foods that are nutritious and safe has led to an increased amount of fresh-cut vegetables, fruits and ready-made convenience foods. These kinds of produce generally have a short shelf-life due to poor temperature and packaging management.
Even in developed countries with good packaging and temperature infrastructure, the amount of fresh cut products that are landfilled remains high. In developing countries the situation is far worse and a high percentage of food is wasted between harvest and market due in the main to poor protective packaging.
In India, where some 40% is wasted before it even reaches the markets, all packaging is done at the processing stage and most of it traps moisture causing the food to rapidly deteriorate.
Food spoilage represents an environmental problem as well as an ethical issue.
Being able to increase the shelf-life of food is a key step.
Poor packaging is one of the key components we have some control over, something that spurred Innovate UK, with the help of the Newton Fund, to back a British and Indian consortium to find a solution to the problem.
The project started in September 2017 and trials have now been successfully completed for a unique breathable film made of compostable polymers and waste starch from India.
Being able to enhance storage stability of food during transport, even at higher ambient temperatures is where the consortium focused.
Current solutions such as PLA film have only proven successful up to a point. PLA is slow to decompose outside of a controlled environment and most of it still ends up in landfill where it is estimated to take somewhere between 100 to 1000 years to decompose.
The consortium’s BioFreshPak is an innovative plastic film that slows ripening and enhances storage stability of food during transport, even at high temperatures. Its unique blend includes TPS and other room temperature compostable polymers and it has selective humidity and permeability controls that maintains the food’s freshness and nutrients. Furthermore this film has the capacity to increase storage-life performance of specific foods by 2 to 5 days without refrigeration.
Unlike PLA, that relies predominantly on genetically modified corn, BioFreshPak is produced with under utilised agri-waste such as second-grade tapioca starch from cassava processing waste. It is compostable in ambient conditions and breaks down in less than 180 days.
Reducing food spoilage and therefore waste goes a long way towards addressing interconnected sustainability challenges, such as climate change, food security, and natural resource shortages.
As organisations around the world continue to search for game-changing solutions to re-dress the balance, the likes of BioFreshPak could take us closer to our goal of drastically reducing food waste.