Putting Food Waste to Good Use
Creating Biodegradable Packaging Material Using Biomaterials from Agricultural Waste
Nearly a third of all food produced globally ends up going to waste. This in turn produces 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. At the same time, manufacturers are seeking alternatives to the use of non-biodegradable plastics in their products and packaging. These two separate issues have found an unlikely solution: The creation of biodegradable plastic out of food waste.
If that solution seems too good to be true, well, that is largely because it is a very specific sort of food waste that works with this technique – namely, milk waste. It helps that a large proportion food wasted every year is dairy-based, meaning there is no shortage of raw material. The technology in question comes from a US-based manufacturer called MiTerro. The company has developed a way of using dairy waste to create fibers which are, in turn, spun into cloth. Further research has developed a method for using spent grain to create a flexible packaging material that can serve as a plastic replacement.
Now, while the idea of making a shirt out of spoiled milk feels a little odd, the ability to create flexible packaging material has caught the attention of manufacturers as a way out of reliance on more traditional plastics. While certainly it is possible to recycle plastic packaging, the resources and infrastructure required to make this happen are demanding. The fact is, unfortunately a lot of plastic ends up in landfills or on giant floating trash barges regardless of how recyclable they may be. The elimination of the use of non-biodegradable plastics entirely seems like a better option.
This is supported by consumer behavior as well. Companies that are able to communicate a commitment to ethical and sustainable manufacturing and packaging are highly regarded by consumers. One of the unexpected side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been an increased awareness in both the importance of a sustainable food supply and a greater concern over the issue of wasted food. In the early days of the pandemic in particular, supply chain shortages made many consumers who would not normally have been exposed to food shortages aware of the real-life challenges this can cause. Finding a way to reduce food waste – and to recycle or otherwise utilize what food waste has suddenly become a priority for people who may have never considered it before.
It is hardly surprising therefore, that MiTerro has seen an increase in manufacturer enquiries for their technology. In particular, the company is receiving attention from European-based manufacturers, where government regulations are putting pressure on the industry to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable or non-compostable plastics entirely. Breaking the reliance on these materials will take time, of course, and it is unlikely that MiTerro's solution alone will solve the problem. But it is an innovative approach to the problems of food waste and non-biodegradable plastics.
What MiTerro has going for it at the moment is both the fact that their technology is capable of producing an environmentally friendly packaging cheaper than many alternatives, and the uptick in interest which will doubtless help them to fund research into further uses for other types of food waste. There is still quite a way to go before the use of plastics can be completely phased out of packaging materials, but the future looks bright.