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A resealable paper bag with the new coating on the inside. Image © Fraunhofer Institute

The amount of plastic waste generated continues to rise. Plastic packaging for food products represents a significant proportion of this waste. As a rule, sausages, cheese, meat and fish are pre-packaged before being sold – but even fruit, vegetables and salad are frequently also only available shrink-wrapped or in plastic containers. While this practice is hygienic and protects the products during transport, it poses problems for the environment. Now, the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) have proposed an innovative and sustainable solution for the packaging of food products. As part of the BioActiveMaterials project, the researchers have developed an eco-friendly coating for use with paper packaging.

The coating is made of plant-based proteins and biodegradable waxes that don’t interfere with paper recycling processes. As such, the packaging can simply be disposed of with other paper waste. The coating is applied using standard processes and serves a number of functions: “Firstly, the proteins act as an oxygen-barrier layer, while the waxes form a water-vapour barrier. This prevents fruit, for example, from drying out too quickly. Secondly, the bio-based additives have an antioxidative and antimicrobial effect. This stops meat and fish from spoiling as quickly. Overall, the food has a much longer shelf life,” explains Dr Michaela Müller, head of the Functional Surfaces and Materials innovation field at Fraunhofer IGB. On top of that, the proteins in the coating prevent mineral oils in the paper from being transferred to the products. Recycled paper in particular contains residues of printer’s ink made with mineral oils.

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