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"Some of the materials will probably not be recycled, but composted instead."

The use of substances from citrus rinds in bioplastics is an example of how we can be inspired by nature’s own protective systems – and more research is needed in future about how to extend the shelf life of food products, according to Katrin Molina-Besch, packaging researcher at Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering, LTH.

Jessika Sellergren – Published 13 October 2021

Citrus fruits in a tree. Photo.
More packaging secrets in fruit rinds and biological processes? Photo: Unsplash

An orange rind or a banana skin are examples of nature’s own packaging. They protect against water, oxygen and bacterial impact – not unlike plastic food packaging.

LTH researcher Katrin Molina-Besch thinks we have a lot to learn from nature when developing new food-container materials for the future. Because the consumer’s need for packaging is not going to dry up, she believes.

“Many people today rightly deplore unnecessary packaging. But packaging is needed to protect the contents and contribute to the reduction of food waste which is, after all, completely crucial to how we solve the climate crisis, among other things”, says Katrin Molina-Besch.

Less packaging – if we become smart consumers

How consumption patterns develop in society will affect the amount of packaging we will need in future:

“Currently, for example, we order a lot of food online here in Sweden and subscribe to food delivery plans that entail transport, making packaging necessary. With that lifestyle, it is difficult to reduce the amount of packaging used”, says Katrin Molina-Besch.

Katrin Molina-Besch points out interesting research into bioactive packaging, which uses substances from ‘nature’s packaging’ that are antioxidant or have antimicrobial properties:

“For example, you take substances from orange peel, which is a residual product or waste from the food industry, and mix it into bioplastic, such as PLA-film, to improve the properties of the packaging membrane and extend the shelf life of the food product”, says Katrin Molina-Besch.

Innovations for products with different needs

Looking towards the future, she imagines researchers, innovators, and industry and trade representatives becoming better at creating packaging solutions for products with completely different needs.

“In the future, recycling will succeed in converting to more biobased materials, and some packaging materials will probably not be recycled but composted instead. There may be more secrets in fruit peels and nutshells, and biological processes that show how biobased material can first protect food efficiently and then decompose rapidly after use. That way, nutrients from the biological waste are retained in the natural cycle.”

The article has been published in the Jubilee Issue of LTH News where LTH researchers have been asked to look around 60 years into the future.