Growing appetite to turn food waste into packaging

Skins left over from tomato processing are used to make a food-safe interior coating, called Biocopac Plus, for cans. The natural polymer is made at the Experimental Station for the Food Preserving Industry in Parma, Italy.
Skins left over from tomato processing are used to make a food-safe interior coating, called Biocopac Plus, for cans. The natural polymer is made at the Experimental Station for the Food Preserving Industry in Parma, Italy.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging.

A growing number of entrepreneurs and researchers are working to turn foods like mushrooms, kelp, milk and tomato peels into edible - if not always palatable - replacements for plastics, coatings and other packaging materials.

Their efforts come as food and beverage companies are not only looking for biodegradable containers - Nestle Waters and Danone recently announced a joint project to make water bottles from wood - but also joining in the growing effort by governments, restaurateurs and consumers to reduce waste, which contributes to the greenhouse gases enveloping the planet.

The US Department of Agriculture, for instance, is giving new meaning to the notion of pizza with extra cheese: A team at its research laboratory has developed a material from milk protein that can be used to line pizza boxes, encase cheese or create soluble soup packets that can simply be dropped in hot water.

The project grew out of the Agriculture Department's search for ways to put some of its stockpiles of milk powder to use.

Over the past several years, governments have quietly bank- rolled efforts to develop packaging from food.

The European Union, which underwrote a project to develop coatings from whey and potato proteins from 2011 to 2015, estimates that the global market for so-called bioplastics is growing by as much as 30 per cent each year.

In Italy, a group of researchers has used leftover tomato skin to develop a lining for cans and bottles. Called Biocopac Plus, the product aims to replace Bisphenol A (BPA).

Small amounts of BPA can migrate into foods, raising concerns among some consumers and health advocates, despite assurances from United States and European regulators that it is safe.

Originally underwritten by the EU, the project is being advanced by a group that includes a large Italian family-owned farming business, a major Italian food processor and a manufacturer of industrial coatings.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Growing appetite to turn food waste into packaging'. Print Edition | Subscribe