Using a combination of organic and plant material, researchers from Spain's Technological Plastic Institute, AIMPLAS, have developed biodegradable netting as an alternative for packaging products such as oranges, potatoes or onions.
Unlike conventional packaging, the biodegradable netting can be thrown directing into compost, without need for separation from the fruits inside, explained head researcher Chelo Escrig.
"Development comes from the necessity created by the number of products packaged in netting like potatoes and onions. When they’ve reached their shelf life, it has been difficult to separate the netting and recycle it. Due to the netting's structure, in the shredding system, it would get caught in the machines," Escrig said.
"The idea is that if the netting were biodegradable, when product arrives to the end of its shelf life, you can throw it in the compost without needing separation. If the material arrives to a composting plant, they can get fertilizer to use for the same products that the netting encases."
In practice, the technology could develop a variety of different nettings for distinct products and maintain the same strength as traditional polymers.
"It has the same strength and resistance. It also has the same weight. This is important because biodegradable materials are heavier. To have the same weight, we had to decrease the thread count in the netting," the researcher said.
One limitation is that the packaging comes with a slightly higher production price. Considering the reduction in labor costs for waste disposal, however, Escrig said the packaging costs balance out.
"To start, the material is a bit more expensive than the conventional material. But the real cost of buying a package of three or four kilos of potatoes, for the client, it will only be a couple of cents more per kilo," she said.
Currently, the technology is in the licensing phase and is not yet in production.