We discuss these and other matters with Lorena Rodríguez, AIMPLAS’ Packaging Manager, to find out the latest news in sustainable packaging for fruit and vegetables.
What type of solutions is AIMPLAS currently working on, especially with regard to the fruit and vegetable sector?
The packaging sector must advance in harmony with the circular economy model, which means being committed to alternatives such as recycled and recyclable materials, to reusable products and, in the case of fruit and vegetables, it is worth highlighting the commitment to materials from renewable sources, such as the sector’s own waste. In this regard, our objective involves finding feasible alternatives to replace materials from fossil sources with renewable ones, with the goal of reducing our environmental footprint.
This is a complex process because, at present, the materials we obtain from the recycling of food and agricultural waste do not have suitable mechanical and barrier properties in order to protect and package fruit and vegetables. They therefore have to be combined with other materials to ensure that new containers provide the product with the same shelf life as conventional containers, made from fossil sources.
Are we experiencing a time of transition in relation to plastic materials?
Yes, absolutely. We are developing and improving materials so that they really can replace conventional ones. I would like to underline the word “really,” because when we speak about sustainability, we are not only speaking about the environmental aspect. If the change of material involves a price increase, the market will not be capable of adopting it and, therefore, it will not reach the market. Herein lies the complexity of changes. When proposing a replacement, the change must be economically and socially sustainable.
Can you reveal the most important innovations with regard to fruit and vegetables?
One of the most successful is a guacamole container made of avocado waste products. This is called the Guacapack project, which is being carried out jointly with the ITC packaging company and Alicante University. The process, broadly speaking, consists in extracting active compounds, polyphenols and starch from leftover fruit, in order to make injected barrier containers with them. We have also produced mesh bags for string beans or garlic made solely from agricultural waste.
Is recycling agricultural waste a sustainable option?
Yes, it is an environmentally sustainable option, and fruit and vegetable companies are very interested. Large quantities of waste can be transformed into materials with high added value, including stubble from fields, and not only for container applications but also for irrigation pipes or greenhouse film.
What is required to make real progress?
We can make more sustainable materials, but we need to have an industry behind that supports these initiatives and implements them. The crux of the matter is money: if there are cheaper solutions, industry will take this path regardless of the amount of more sustainable solutions that scientists provide.