UK-India group develops compostable film to extend the life of fruit and vegetables

A consortium of UK and Indian businesses and organisations has developed a new compostable film designed to reduce food and plastic waste.

The new compostable plastic film, called BioFreshPak, was developed by a team of experts led by Nextek in the UK and MIT in India and backed by Innovate UK and the Newton Fund.

Cassava waste.
Cassava waste is used to make the BioFreshPak compostable film.
The project began in September 2017 and trials have now been successfully completed for a unique breathable film made of compostable polymers and waste starch from India.

BioFreshPak is made from a blend of starch from cassava processing waste and other compostable polymers, and slows moisture loss and enhances storage stability of food during transport, even at high temperatures.

The film is put forward as a compostable alternative to bio-based polymers for film such as PLA, which is slow to decompose outside of a controlled environment, and aims to keep food fresh for longer without using conventional plastic film, which is largely unrecyclable, especially in developing countries.

In India, where some 40 per cent of food is wasted before it even reaches the markets, the absence of appropriate packaging in supply chains can cause food to rapidly deteriorate.

Being able to slow down ripening and enhance storage stability of food during transport, even at ambient temperatures, is where the consortium focused its research. Current solutions such as PLA film have only proven successful up to a point. PLA is slow to decompose outside of a controlled environment and most of it still ends up in landfill where it is estimated to take somewhere between 100 to 1,000 years to decompose.

The consortium claims that the film has the capacity to increase storage-life performance of specific foods by two to five days without refrigeration.

While the film is branded as home compostable, it has yet to be awarded certification for home composting in line with the EU composting standard EN13432, though it is expected to obtain certification from TUV and OK Compost within the coming months.

The prime target market will be India, where there has been a lot of interest from business, where composting, both at home and on an industrial-scale, is well established.

Commenting on the development of the film, Professor Edward Kosior, Managing Director of Nextek, said: “Consumer demand for fresh, convenient, and healthy foods that are nutritious and safe has led to an increased amount of fresh-cut vegetables, fruits and ready-made convenience foods. These kinds of foods generally have a short shelf-life due to poor temperature and packaging management.

Mushrooms protected by compostable film and regular film.
Mushrooms after four days having been wrapped with BioFreshPak (top) and with regular film (bottom).
“Even in developed countries with good packaging and temperature management conditions, the amount of fresh cut products that are landfilled remains high. However, in developing countries a high percentage of food is wasted between harvest and market due to the lack of an adequate refrigerated supply chain and poor packaging. Correct packaging, testing and temperature control are fundamental to enhancing the shelf life of fresh produce.

“Unlike PLA, which relies predominantly on genetically modified corn, BioFreshPak is produced with under-utilised agri-waste such as tapioca starch from cassava processing waste. Being able to increase the shelf-life of food is a vital step and there is certainly room for game-changers such as BioFreshPak to take us closer to our goal of drastically reducing food waste.”

BioFreshPak is the latest bio-based innovation to increase the shelf life of food, with UK food technology company It’s Fresh! Signing an agreement with Ecuadorian banana association, ACORBANEC, to use its ethylene-based banana preservation technology, and Apeel Sciences developing an edible, plant-derived coating that allows fruit and vegetables such as mandarins and avocados to stay fresh for longer.

The BioFreshPak consortium includes:

Brunel University
Greenwich University
Solutions 4 Plastic
Earth Champions Foundation
Manbras Plastronics
Punjab Agricultural University