AGH UST students are working on biodegradable packaging

PLA granules used by the students are biodegradable.

Students working in a laboratory.

Model of the composite to be used for producing biodegradable cartons. The packaging will consist of two biodegradable layers and cellulose.

AGH UST students are developing a prototype of a biodegradable packaging for storing milk and other perishable foods.

The biodegradable packaging AGH UST students are working on should contain natural materials that would be at least 90% decomposable. Such a solution will allow the packaging to qualify as compostable waste that will break down into nothing but water and CO2.

The source of student inspiration was an EU directive that will take effect in 2021. Under the new legislation, the use of conventional polymers for one-off use, such as forks, straws or cups, will be strictly limited or banned. Current environmental actions taken by the EU bodies aim to reduce the use of materials demonstrating ill-matched properties, that is: the ones whose estimated useful life does not reflect the real needs that come with their intended use.

AGH UST student Renata Radziewicz, head of the student research society, stresses the fact that: “the biodegradable carton we are working on is a really sought-after solution that will have a real impact on the reduction in the use of conventional polymers by the food industry, which are non-biodegradable and end up filling up landfill sites. The problem is particularly acute with multi-layered packagings popularly known as “Tetra Pak”.

The packaging designed by our students will consist of three main layers:

  • a biodegradable foil layer made from polymer matrix that will mainly ensure impermeability and protection against mechanical damage,
  • a structural layer resistant to squeezing and crushing
  • a biodegradable layer made from foil that will be highly impermeable to oxygen and light.

Mr Piotr Szatkowski, DSc. of the Department of Biomaterials and Composites, who acts as the project’s supervisor, adds: “The materials that will be researched include biodegradable thermoplastic resins – particularly polyactic acid (PLA) -  and natural modifiers to be used as additives for enhancing product characteristics, such as cellulose fibres. Also, the final product should satisfy a number of requirements making its practical applications possible, such as: low light or oxygen transmission and resistance to damage. The carton packaging should also be possible to manufacture using tried and tested methods, which would facilitate the implementation of the new solution in the existing production lines. As the course of work progresses, we are planning to develop a technology and select the right materials to make sure that the final product could be brought to market and commercialised, which is of great importance to us here”.

The research team working as part of the Ceremit Student Research Society consists of nearly 20 members representing mainly materials science as well as biomedical engineering. To keep track of their progress go to the Team’s KN Ceramit  Profile at: https://www.facebook.com/ceramit.agh.