Promising new wrap could replace plastic

Published on 08/25 2020  Source: China Daily


A Chinese research team based in Qingdao, Shandong province, is developing a new technology for food packaging that is expected to be ecologically friendly and pose no threat to people's health.

Xu Jiachao, a professor at the College of Food Science and Engineering at Ocean University of China, led the research team. The team used alginate, an extract from brown algae, rather than plastic, to make food wrappers.

"The food wrapper can achieve 100 percent degradation in 6 to 12 months, without any environmental pollution," said Xu, adding that it is also safe for people. It can endure temperatures ranging from -80 to 120 C.

Xu and his team started their research in 2012 and conducted tens of thousands of experiments.

"Alginate is renewable and nontoxic, and has excellent film-forming properties when crosslinked by calcium ions. But it tends to be fragile," said Xu, who has focused on research of marine creatures for many years.

Finally, the team added another ion and tried to make the new food wrapper stronger. They called it "double-ions film-forming technology" and have applied for a patent.

"The technology still needs improving, and we will conduct more experiments," Xu said.

Most of food wrappers in the market are made from plastic, which is potential threat to human health.

"Plastic has mainly three toxins, which possibly cause cancer in the long run if absorbed in human bodies," Xu said.

The annual production of food wrappers in China reached 467,200 metric tons in 2019, compared with 192,900 tons in 2013, an increase of 142 percent, according to the China Association for Science and Technology.

The per capita consumption of food wrappers was 10 yuan ($1.44) at the end of 2019, an increase of 30 percent year-on-year, the association said on WeChat.

China added restrictions in January to the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products.

The National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China's major cities by the end of this year and banned in all cities and towns by 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025.

Xu said that his team would do more to support China's move to phase out single-use plastics.

"Our team is seeking cooperation with enterprises to commercialize the product of food wrappers soon," he said.(Source:China Daily)