Aiming to supply environmentally pleasant options to plastic meals wrap and containers, a Rutgers scientist has developed a biodegradable, plant-based coating that may be sprayed on meals, guarding in opposition to pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms and transportation harm.
The scalable course of may doubtlessly cut back the hostile environmental affect of plastic meals packaging in addition to shield human well being.
“We knew we wanted to eliminate the petroleum-based meals packaging that’s on the market and change it with one thing extra sustainable, biodegradable and unhazardous,” stated Philip Demokritou, director of the Nanoscience and Superior Supplies Analysis Middle, and the Henry Rutgers Chair in Nanoscience and Environmental Bioengineering on the Rutgers College of Public Well being and Environmental and Occupational Well being Sciences Institute. “And we requested ourselves on the identical time, ‘Can we design meals packaging with a performance to increase shelf life and cut back meals waste whereas enhancing meals security?”’
Demokritou added, “And what now we have give you is a scalable know-how, which permits us to show biopolymers, which could be derived as a part of a round financial system from meals waste, into sensible fibers that may wrap meals straight. That is a part of new technology, ‘sensible’ and ‘inexperienced’ meals packaging.”
The analysis was performed in live performance with scientists at Harvard College and funded by the Harvard-Nanyang Technological College/Singapore Sustainable Nanotechnology Initiative.
Their article, revealed within the science journal Nature Meals, describes the brand new form of packaging know-how utilizing the polysaccharide/biopolymer-based fibers. Just like the webs forged by the Marvel comedian ebook character Spider-Man, the stringy materials could be spun from a heating gadget that resembles a hair dryer and “shrink-wrapped” over meals of assorted styles and sizes, resembling an avocado or a sirloin steak. The ensuing materials that encases meals merchandise is sturdy sufficient to guard bruising and accommodates antimicrobial brokers to combat spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms resembling E. coli and listeria.
The analysis paper features a description of the know-how referred to as centered rotary jet spinning, a course of by which the biopolymer is produced, and quantitative assessments displaying the coating prolonged the shelf lifetime of avocados by 50 p.c. The coating could be rinsed off with water and degrades in soil inside three days, in accordance with the examine.
The brand new packaging is focused at addressing a critical environmental problem: the proliferation of petroleum-based plastic merchandise within the waste stream. Efforts to curb using plastic, resembling laws in states like New Jersey to remove plastic purchasing bag distribution at grocery shops, might help, Demokritou stated. However he needed to do extra.
“I am not in opposition to plastics,” Demokritou stated. “I am in opposition to petroleum-based plastics that we preserve throwing on the market as a result of solely a tiny portion of them could be recycled. Over the previous 50 to 60 years, throughout the Age of Plastic, we have positioned 6 billion metric tons of plastic waste into our surroundings. They’re on the market degrading slowly. And these tiny fragments are making it into the water we drink, the meals we eat and the air we breathe.”
Rising proof from Demokritou’s analysis staff and others level to potential well being implications.
The paper describes how the brand new fibers encapsulating the meals are laced with naturally occurring antimicrobial substances — thyme oil, citric acid and nisin. Researchers within the Demokritou analysis staff can program such sensible supplies to behave as sensors, activating and destroying bacterial strains to make sure meals will arrive untainted. This can tackle rising concern over food-borne sicknesses in addition to decrease the incidence of meals spoilage, Demokritou stated.
Scientists at Harvard College who performed the analysis embrace Kevin Equipment Parker, Huibin Chang, Luke Macqueen, Michael Peters and John Zimmerman of the Illness Biophysics Group, John A. Paulson College of Engineering and Utilized Sciences; and Jie Xu, Zeynep Aytac and Tao Xu of the Middle for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology, Division of Environmental Well being, Harvard T. H. Chan College of Public Well being.