SAVE FOOD research project: New food packaging from leftover food
Food production generates a lot of residual material, which is usually not put to use but disposed of. At the same time, there is an increasing demand for alternatives to plastic packaging. Biodegradable and compostable packaging can be a sustainable solution, especially if it is made of leftovers from food production. In a new SAVE FOOD research project, students of Bahçeşehir University (BAU) in Istanbul have developed interesting ideas regarding the matter.
The initiative SAVE FOOD was created in 2011 by Messe Düsseldorf, interpack and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) with the goal to reduce food loss and food waste worldwide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative had been partially put on hold. Now it has been restarted with new forward-looking projects. One of these is the research project by BAU Istanbul, which studies how to manufacture biodegradable packaging material for food from food waste or from byproducts of the food industry.
At Bahçeşehir University (BAU) in Istanbul, one project of the SAVE FOOD Initiative is being carried out. (Image: BAU)
For this interdisciplinary research project, 28 students from different courses of study – bio-engineering and bio-medical engineering, industrial design, industrial engineering and management, computer engineering, molecular biology and genetics, electrical engineering/electronics and energy systems technology – have assembled in six teams. As preparation, they enrolled in courses on topics like food packaging, materials science, design thinking and applied nanotechnology. The project took off in the middle of December 2022, and the teams were given three months to complete their projects.
Innovative packaging ideas
The results are truly something to be seen: For example, for packaging dry foods, a bioplastic wrap made of kombucha SCOBY was developed, made from waste material of oranges and tea leaves. Another team implemented the idea of packaging strawberries under a protective atmosphere using integrated nano wrap made from PLA and rice husks. For sweets, one team developed a 3D printed pectin film, another produced double-layer food packaging from banana leaves, seashells and watermelon rinds. Packaging for meat, made from nano wrap and pomegranate peel, as well as a beeswax-coated inner sleeve for milk cartons, were also among the student teams’ ideas.
Two projects made it into the final selection of the jury: the SCOBY bioplastic wrap made of waste tea leaves and oranges and the protective packaging for strawberries made from PLA and rice husks. “All the concepts that were entered for the challenge have the potential – after some improvements – for practical use”, says Zeynep Tacer Caba, Assistant Professor at the faculty for engineering and natural sciences at Bahçeşehir University, who is responsible for the project. “The two chosen projects have especially good prospects with regard to practical applicability.” They have the potential to become truly sustainable, environmentally friendly solutions for the current problems in the food packaging sector. However, the groups who did not win are planning to continue their ideas as research projects.”
This nano wrap made from PLA and rice husks is intended for packaging strawberries in a protective atmosphere. Image: BAU
Both selected projects are going to be presented at interpack within the forum Spotlight Talks & Trends. “Right now, the students are still working on the manufacture of prototypes and we hope we will be able to present them at interpack”, says Zeynep Tacer Caba. “The six groups of students have worked really hard to master numerous challenges, for example the selection and safety of food sources, the feasibility of their ideas, internal communication problems within the group or technical challenges regarding the experiments. All in all, they have learned how to develop a product all the way from the initial idea to the prototype.”
The students worked on the research project in six teams. (Image: BAU)