Food packaging remains a sticking point for the circular economy. Plastic is so entrenched in the food production cycle that avoiding it when sourcing groceries and takeaway food is almost impossible.
The property industry is trying to influence the amount of plastic used in retail food courts and other food businesses through experimentation with green lease clauses that either ban or discourage plastics. Lendlease has trialled this at Barangaroo in Sydney and AMP Capital is understood to be exploring a similar pathfor its new development at Circular Quay.
Fortunately, the current spotlight on Australia’s waste problems means consumers are becoming increasingly attuned to the origins of the products they buy and the packaging it comes in. This is inspiring a range of new plastic alternatives.
One example revealed recently is a material made out of crab shells and tree fibres that could replace the flexible plastic packaging used to keep food fresh recently createdby researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology.
The material may even be able to keep food fresher for longer than some common forms of petroleum-based materials, according to professor J Carson Meredith of Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
“The main benchmark that we compare it to is PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most common petroleum-based materials in the transparent packaging you see in vending machines and soft drink bottles,” he said.
“Our material showed up to a 67 per cent reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher longer,” he said.
Professor Meredith said the material showed promise as a genuine replacement for petroleum-based flexible packaging due to existing supplies of chitin-rich byproducts left over from the shellfish food industry and the large quantities of cellulose currently in production.
The technology is still very much in its infancy, he added, and there is currently no manufacturing process in existence that can produce the material at scale.
Alternatives to sea life-choking six pack rings
In another response to the need for plastic alternatives, a new brewery called Urban Alley Brewery is providing an eco-friendly substitute to a waste item that has long threatened marine life, creating biodegradable six pack rings (E6PR) that fish can eat.
The new outfit based in Melbourne claims to be the first brewery in Australia to use the rings made from spent grain, and only the fifth in the world.
Spent grain is a by-product from the beer brewing process and represent about . Innovative brewers are of using the by-product to stop it from going to landfill, such as converting it into energy to power brewhouses.
There are even options for meat packaging
Coles might have attracted huge backlash by flip-flopping on its plastic bag ban (thicker reusable plastic bags will now be free for consumers until the end of August, according to the ) but it’s taking a more environmental tack on its food packaging in partnership with Plantic Technologies.
Its house brand meat and meat products will soon be packaged in a combination of recycled plastics and renewable material made from plant matter such as corn.
The barrier trays are made from recycled PET, with a thin layer of Plantic’s renewable barrier material, which helps keeps the meat fresh.
During the recycling process, the thin Plantic plant starch layer washes away, allowing the PET tray to be re-recycled.
Plantic Technologies chief executive Brendan Morris said the company saw partnering with Coles as a way to help promote the local waste recycling industry.
“The problem in Australia is that there hasn’t been lot of processing of kerbside recycling done on-shore,” Mr Morris said.
“Instead we’ve been sending it to China. As a result, there has been little investment to reprocess the waste within Australia and there’s not enough capacity here.”
Australia is also importing non-recyclable plastics into the country.
“We decided that we needed to do something, or that mountain of waste will continue to grow,” Mr Morris said.