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Cellulose mooted as eco-friendly replacement in MAP packaging

By Joe Whitworth , 25-Feb-2013

An EU project is aiming to produce cellulose-based materials to be used in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), to replace traditional oil-based substances.

ADCELLPACK, which runs until the end of October 2014, will develop a thermoplastic wood-fibre-based packaging material for trays used primarily in packages of sliced cheese.

Common MAP packaging structures are based on non-renewable multilayer materials which are difficult to recycle, said the project group.

The aim is to produce a fully sustainable solution that will maintain the freshness of the product and assure its food contact safety but a key challenge to address relates to ensuring barrier properties.

ITENE Packaging, Transport and Logistics Research Center (Spain) will co-ordinate the €1.4m-funded research effort.

Viable alternative

The researchers have identified that materials based in cellulose can be a viable alternative to those currently used in MAP.

The project outcome will be a thermoformable tray mainly composed of cellulose (up to 90% in weight), with improved properties using modified pulp fine fraction.

However, paper is a non thermoformable substrate that needs a barrier and sealing layer to be applied in MAP packaging.

To overcome these limitations, paper substrate will be specifically formulated to provide a thermoformable solution, and a polymer blend based in poly(lactic acid) (PLA) will be developed to assure required barrier properties, said the researchers.

Blends with polyglycolic acid will be considered to produce a coating and a lid for the tray.

Marja Juvonen, senior scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland told FoodProductionDaily.com that the project was on track to offer an alternative to non-renewable resources.

“There are not many wood-fibre based packaging options in the market, or that are working well for their market need.

“[It is] extremely important as fibre-based packaging can reduce environmental impact and we are aiming at a renewable and recyclable solution.”

Large consumption of cheese

She added that the packaging could be used for other products but cheese was chosen as the target due to its large consumption in the market.

The end goal is to have pilot scale available and then move to total concept and transfer to real production to meet market demand, Juvonen explained.  

The consortium is based on four SMEs – Distribuciones Juan Luna, S.L.U. (Spain), Papelera de Brandia, S.A. (Spain), Elastopoli Oy (Finland), and Skymark Packaging International Limited (UK).

One large enterprise – Centros Comerciales Carrefour (Spain); and two research centres – VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and project leaders, ITENE, make up the team.

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