Converting Global Food Waste into Bioplastics

Roughly one third of the food produced worldwide gets lost or wasted. Researchers at the University of Canterbury’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering are working on a method to turn food waste into bioplastics.

Food Waste

Food waste in numbers is shocking! Roughly one third of the food produced worldwide gets lost or wasted. If food waste was a country, it’d be the third largest emitting country in the world. It amounts to roughly 680 billion dollars in industrialized countries and even to 310 billion dollars in developing countries.

Projects like SAVE FOOD, a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), our organizer Messe Düsseldorf, and one of our partner shows from Messe Düsseldorf’s field of competence machinery, plant and equipment interpack, the leading global trade fair for packaging and processes, are doing their best to tackle the food waste crisis – and are supported by scientists from all sectors. Researcher Dr. Alex Yip from the University of Canterbury’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering is working on a method to turn food waste into bioplastics and he’s on a good way to succeeding!

Current Status: Proof-of-Concept

Packaging production is a highly revolutionary industrial sector that’s bringing along innovations almost on a daily basis and these innovations can originate in almost any scientific niche like robotics, artificial intelligence or – in this case – chemistry and engineering.

In collaboration with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Dr. Alex Yip is working to develop a catalyst for food waste conversion. The idea is to extract valuable chemical components from food waste and use them to make bioplastics – to be precise, their aim is to turn three key chemical components, including polylactic acid (PLA) and the organic compound 5-HMF into building blocks for the new material. So far, they have achieved a proof-of-concept and are now confident that their idea is feasible.

A Win-Win-Situation

Bioplastics from food waste does not only tackle the global food waste crisis and by doing that lowers greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also an opportunity for a 100% recyclable and fully biodegradable packaging material, which in turn would reduce the amount of non-biodegradable plastics going into landfills.

We really don’t see the downside …

Tackling Food Waste with Technology

The main challenge for new technologies trying to enter the market is usually a monetary question. Inventor Dr. Alex Yip says:

“This waste stream carries both opportunity and financial costs. What we’re trying to do is add value to that waste by converting it into something useful while at the same time responding to another environmental problem in Aotearoa New Zealand, which is the plastic waste problem.”

The packaging industry is not the only sector that’s on a quest for sustainable solutions in the food waste crisis. While the food waste crisis is among the most significant challenges humanity is facing nowadays, additive manufacturing belongs to the most promising technologies and creative solutions for various problems. The idea of using 3D printing to tackle the food waste crisis took surprisingly long to develop, but the moment has come: thanks to two Dutch students and their university project. Read more about another way of combatting the global food waste problem here!

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