BM#11/20 - Disposable tableware and biodegradable packaging
Bio-based and biodegradable packaging based on apple pomace is a highly promising alternative to existing conventional plastic products in order to reduce environmental pollution caused by plastic waste. Its relevance will become even greater when single-use plastic products will be forbidden due to EU legislation by 2021. Disposable tableware and biodegradable packaging made from apple pomace is likely to be accepted by consumers due to their increased awareness of this topic and their increasing need for better alternatives to conventional plastic.
For the project, we collaborated with a research centre for scientific analysis of apple pomace. The aim was to gain deeper knowledge about the raw material, e.g. whether and how different varieties of apple pomace require different production parameters, and which raw material is more or less promising for further research in this field of application. Four different samples were analysed. To compare the different samples, they were all subjected to the same procedure. The same solvents, temperature and duration were used for the extractions. The results of the analysis show that that the drying process of the apple pomace has an influence on the composition of the ingredients and nutrients. This is an important aspect, because apple pomace containing a high amount of important nutrients should not be used for packaging. Instead, it could preferably be used for further processing into products for human consumption or as animal feed, since the high content of e.g. sugar and protein is also beneficial to animals.
Business and marketing opportunities
A large amount of apple pomace is currently used for animal feed. For apple juice producers, selling apple pomace to packaging companies (which produce and/or sell the disposable tableware and biodegradable packaging) would be an attractive opportunity to increase the valorisation of their by-product. The first choice for the marketing of disposable tableware and packaging products would be business to business – “B2B”. For example, standardised products and single-use dishes can be sold and distributed via gastronomy suppliers and via wholesalers. A second promising opportunity would be B2B marketing through cooperation with food producing companies, which are in need of more sustainable, alternative packaging materials. For example, a great opportunity lies in the replacement of conventional plastic yoghurt cups. In general, biodegradable packaging is perceived as a possibility to stand out from the competition, as it offers a unique selling point on the market, which can in turn have a positive effect on the companies.
Since packaging and tableware made from apple pomace are new products, there are many uncertainties that still need clarification. Firstly, the amount of packaging material that can be produced from regional raw material is limited depending on the availability of raw material in the region, which again might vary from season to season. Importing the necessary volumes of raw material appears not to be desirable, because it would mean losing the economic effects on the region. Secondly, developing the product in such a way that it meets all hygiene and food technology requirements (e.g. shelf life of the food, no residues, e.g. from pesticides, in the produced packaging) represents another hurdle. A major challenge is that apple pomace is normally not obtained from a single variety of apples but from an unknown mixture. Consequently, there is a broad range in the quality levels and materials characteristics, which is likely to result in varying quality of the final packaging/tableware products. Furthermore, the different treatments such as drying of the raw material can also make it difficult to produce packaging with the same hygiene and food technology properties. Thirdly, it is important to distinguish between different types of raw materials in order to ensure sustainability: some raw materials still contain a lot of high-quality nutrients. In this case, the processing needs to be set up to ensure that nutrient rich apple pomace remains usable for human consumption or as animal feed. Another technical implementation hurdle is the compatibility with existing machinery: are the new packaging materials compatible with existing machinery? Producers will be asking for assurance that the alternative material will also work with their equipment. Otherwise, the companies would have to develop or buy new, costly machines, which would be big obstacle for implementation. Additionally, bio-degradable packaging has to withstand conventional solutions from an economic point of view. If they do not offer similar margins and features, it will be difficult to make companies enthusiastic about the product.
Suggestions for the next steps
As a first step, market research on the availability of raw materials is needed to find out how much raw material is available and how much packaging/tableware could be produced from that raw material. As a second step, more interested companies need to be identified and connected: companies that provide the raw material, a research centre or research company with relevant expertise, a packaging company that wants to work on the development of the product and a machine manufacturer, if needed. In addition, a further laboratory analysis of the raw material is needed (e.g. hygienic testing of the packaging material, testing machinery, shelf life of food products packaged in biodegradable packaging) as well as comprehensive product development to find the most suitable raw material. Based on the results, the financial resources need to be calculated in detail, including the price of the raw material, certification costs and costs for logistics/marketing. In addition, it is useful to look for investors and sponsors for the development of biodegradable packaging.
For further details, please read our Best Practice Brochure.
Would you like to know more about the laboratory analysis of apple pomace initiated by AlpBioEco? Read our interview: The study of apple pomace in the laboratory in Austria: Interview with Dr. Bettina Schwarzinger