In Germany, Zelfo Technology and Upgrading have partnered to trial production of a wheat straw-based packaging solution that could provide the opportunity for any waste food or fibre to be used for packaging.
“We are offering packaging solutions created using 100% agriculture waste, which is converted into self-binding micro- and nano-fibrillated natural fibres (M/NFNF),” said Eduardo Gordillo, managing director of Upgrading, which will be marketing the technology globally. “Successful trials have been made using wheat straw, because it was available and allowed us to test the principle. However, almost all fibre based crop residue or waste sources are suitable for conversion to packaging using the Zelfo/Upgrading system.”
The material uses only the food producers’ lingo-cellulosic fibre (in this case wheat straw) and requires no additional binder. Designed to meet food industry packaging demands, the resulting products have a robust and flexible form with a smooth surface. Trial mouldings are approximately 250 x 150 x 50mm, but other sizes will be offered as standard; and non-toxic dyes can also be used to colour the product as required.
As almost all fibre-based crop residue or waste sources are suitable for conversion to this packaging using the Zelfo/Upgrading system, the solution has the potential to add significant value to agricultural residue or waste. According to Eduardo, the concept virtually bypasses the need to use standard cellulose sources (new or recycled) and focuses on any food source producer’s own residue or waste fibre.
In this way, producers could effectively become the raw material suppliers for their own packaging material, Eduardo said. Alternatively, he suggests, M/NFC [micro- and nano-fibrillated cellulose] conversion of residual or waste fibre at a single regional source by a centrally placed processor could also supply other growers in the same region with raw material.
Biodegradable under normal conditions and recyclable, the resulting packaging material can be used to produce 3D packs such as tomato trays (retail packaging) made from the yearly agriculture waste from tomato plants; olive oil bottles made from the agricultural waste from olive trees; chocolate packaging made from the agricultural waste from cacao; biscuit packaging made from the agriculture waste from wheat; corn soup packaging made from the agriculture waste from corn; or packaging for the premium gifts made from the tree leaves.
“Our product range will be orientated around containers for fruit and vegetables at first. These will be offered with and without additional barrier and graphic surface treatments. Fully waterproof vessels will form part of the second wave of products and these are already being reviewed. We can also produce packaging for non-food products,” said Eduardo. “Generally speaking we can offer a substantial range of opaque containers and casings. Transparent packaging is part of a parallel project, which remains ‘secret’… for now.”
As much client interest currently emanates from Europe, trial product development will be handled at the partnership’s pilot plant near Hannover.
“For us it is very important that we engage with businesses that have a substantial ecological impact and who wish to embrace sustainability,” Eduardo explained. “All kinds of packaging, which is currently made from petroleum-based plastics or resource intensive cellulose, should be replaced.”
Upgrading has already started negotiations with potential customers in China, while sales are starting in Germany where the partnership has set-up its R&D/production plant. This plant will have a capacity of 3,000,000 packages per year, which is sufficient for what Eduardo calls “mini orders”. In Spain, discussions are ongoing with a potential customer looking to build a plant in Tunisia, where it has a tomato plantation.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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