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Veggie waste offers green solution to single-use packaging

Victoria University Media Release

Australia’s mounting packaging stockpile could soon shrink with a little help from greener packaging made from vegetable waste.

With an Australian Government target for all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, Victoria University researchers have been looking at how agricultural waste from vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, celery and lettuce could be used to create affordable and easily compostable packaging.

Known as ‘biopackaging,’ the global environment-friendly food packaging market is expected to reach about $184 billion by 2026, according to Modor Intelligence as increasing bans on plastic and growing consumer awareness affect markets worldwide.

As a solution, polymer expert Dr Marlene Cran and her team have been working in the research labs at VU’s Werribee Campus with the unusable produce provided by a nearby Werribee South market-farm. Leaves, stems and rejected produce is normally used as animal feed, composted, or can be sent to landfill where it decomposes and produces methane gas.

Instead, the team has created a range of food packaging products using the waste vegetables.

VU Sustainable Packaging researchers found celery’s high cellulose content makes ideal food trays, whereas zucchini, broccoli and lettuce can be processed into thick films that could be suitable as a tray insert or produce separator.

Mycelium – the root structure of mushrooms – can be grown on the partially dried waste materials to make good replacement for styrofoam boxes.

The team’s goal is to use minimal interventions such as intensive drying or the use of excessive additives so that the processes are as natural and inexpensive as possible, and easier to scale-up in the future.

Pea starch has starring role in film-making

Away from the farm, the team is using starch waste material left over from the extraction of proteins from yellow peas to create a flexible film that could become the new plastic in a true circular economy.

“In future there could be protein powders or dried peas sold in a bag made from the leftover starch sourced from the vegetables… inside the bag,” said Dr Cran. “That’s the dream.”

Despite the lack of industry-grade testing facilities and the expense to test alternative packaging – meaning a possible long road ahead – Dr Cran says it just makes sense to replace throw-away packaging with sustainable natural products.

“Designing something that can compete on price and effectiveness with plastic and foam is the work of decades. But the investment needs to start now.”

VU’s sustainable packaging solutions project is funded by the Victorian government’s higher education state investment fund.


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  1. New England Cocky

    Another example of forward thinking from the Dan Andrews LABOR team using R&D to build a better future for all Australian voters, not just the foreign owned multinational corporations paying little or no taxation for the benefit of trading in politically stable economy.

  2. leefe

    Fungi are the future.

  3. Roswell

    leefe, I watched a TED Talk about ten years ago about the one food source that could save the planet: mushrooms.

    I can’t remember a single thing from the presentation, just the title.

  4. leefe

    Most people don’t realise the importance of fungi – especially mycelium – to our ecoosystems. They are literally the interface between soil and vegetation; without them, no trees, no shrubs, no crops. They’re fast and easy to grow and are incredibly versatile. What we see on the surface are just the fruiting bdies.

  5. Canguro

    Most people also don’t realise the importance of fungi – especially fruiting bodies – for our health and well-being. And not only for the provision of vitamins, minerals and protein. The current burgeoning interest in psilocybin as a catalytic material for the exploration of the realms of consciousness and the universe that exists within as well as externally, along with their efficacy as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of such distressful aspects of existence such as PTSD, loss, grief, end of life issues, palliative care and preparation for death, have amply demonstrated to this current crop of humanity – at least to those who take an interest in such matters – what has been know for millennia in various parts of the planet like early European civilizations and more specifically, the Mesoamerican societies; the Maya, Aztecs, along with many others, whose cultural legacy is awash with reference to the central role these psilocybin-containing fungi played in their lives.

    Mid-twentieth-century American paranoia, a function of both cultural blindness and an ignorant intolerance that accompanied the rigidity of Christian beliefs successfully saw legislative demonising and criminalising of these sacred gifts from the great Gaia for the benefit of humanity, and it has taken more than seventy years for the subject of their efficacy and natural role in people’s lives to be revisited; thankfully, both within the USA and other countries there now exists government-mandated research programs within medical and other institutions that are repeatedly demonstrating what the Aztecs and Mayans knew almost two thousand years ago. And we called them savages! Classic Freudian projection!

  6. Clakka

    More excellent news today.

    Of course we all probably understand the majorly corrupt interventions of the Amercian ‘leaders’ in various industrial trades of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, eg: human slavery, opium and tobacco (with huge profits disguised in the oil industry), cotton vs hemp, and so on and so forth, setting a trend of vested-interest expedience facilitated via the spread of misinformation and ignorance. The deadly invisible wars (that persist – eg. Purdue).

    It’s high time, and would be a great idea to introduce intimately the Koch bros et al to the corrective health giving benefits of fungi.

    Who knows, it may well lead to an exponential spread of fun guys?

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