Article image

New packaging could help cut back on food waste in a big way

Researchers at Virginia Tech are creating industrial packaging with a goal of cutting back on food waste. Vegetable oil is used to make the new packaging slick so that sticky foods like ketchup will dispense more easily without leaving behind waste.

Not only is it annoying when food sticks to plastic packaging, but it also contributes to the millions of pounds of edible food that gets tossed out every year in America.

The new technique developed by the team involves the integration of chemically compatible vegetable oils and commonly extruded plastics. This is the first time that such a method has been executed using inexpensive and widely available plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene.

Study lead author Ranit Mukherjee is a doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics within the College of Engineering.

“Previous SLIPS, or slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces, have been made using silicon- or fluorine-based polymers, which are very expensive,” said Mukherjee. “But we can make our SLIPS out of these hydrocarbon-based polymers, which are widely applicable to everyday packaged products.”

SLIPS, which were first created by Harvard University researchers in 2011, are porous surfaces or absorbent polymers that can hold a chemically compatible oil within their surfaces through the process of wicking. These slick surfaces are also self-cleaning, self-healing, and more durable than traditional superhydrophobic surfaces.

Study co-author Jonathan Boreyko is an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.

“We had two big breakthroughs,” said Professor Boreyko. “Not only are we using these hydrocarbon-based polymers that are cheap and in high demand, but we don’t have to add any surface roughness, either. We actually found oils that are naturally compatible with the plastics, so these oils are wicking into the plastic itself, not into a roughness we have to apply.”

Professor Boreyko pointed out several other benefits to the improved design beyond minimizing food waste, including consumer safety and comfort.

“We’re not adding any mystery nanoparticles to the surfaces of these plastics that could make people uncomfortable. We use natural oils like cottonseed oil, so there are no health concerns whatsoever. There’s no fancy recipe required.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Virginia Tech

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day