Compostable nets offer eco-friendly option for produce packaging

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Compostable nets offer eco-friendly option for produce packaging

Biodegradable packaging that gives supermarkets an organic alternative to using plastic to bag fresh fruit and vegetables has caught the attention of Fruit Logistica's Innovation Award 2104 judges. packaging Austria sq

The compostable nets made from cellulose fibers are the brainchild of Austrian company Verpackungszentrum Graz, which is dedicated to making eco-friendly packaging that is as biodegradable as organic food itself.

They are soft as well as durable, come in a range of colors and are breathable, therefore keeping produce fresher for longer while warding off sprouting from onions and potatoes.

Beechwood from forest thinning around Europe is used to produce raw materials which are spun into special threads and eventually turned into packaging nets.

The packing center in Graz is a family-run business and has been supplying leading German retail group REWE - the operator of Lidl, Aldi, Kaufland and Netto Marken Discounts - since December 2012, and recently madesignificant steps to supply supermarkets in Sweden with its pioneering product.

The company is among a list of 10 nominations to win February’s innovation award at the European trade fair and has previously been recognized for its environmentally-friendly products, winning a plethora of trophies in the past including the Bronze Daphne Award for environmentally-friendly technology 2012 and the Energy Globe Styria Award 2013.

Bettina Reichl from the company told that using packages that were biodegradable or could be recycled not only limited the drain on fossil resources like crude oil, but also allowed biodegradable substances to enter the supply chain.

"We have successfully made a step in this direction and developed tubular nets using compostable cellulose fibers," she said.

"We are honored to have been nominated for the innovation award and are looking forward to attending the fair next month where we will meet interested parties from all over Europe."

Bettina Reichl (background) and Susanne Meininger (foreground).

Bettina Reichl (background) and Susanne Meininger (foreground).

Until last June, the REWE group had exclusive rights on the organic packaging, using it for the Ja range of products including organic potatoes, onions and beetroot, which saved around 3.2 metric tons (MT) of plastic.

The organic packaging has also been used by the Austrian arm of Aldi, Hofer, for its 'Zurϋck zum Ursprung' (Back to the Roots) and 'Natur Aktiv' (Nature Active) ranges since June 2013 and last autumn the retailer extended use to include packing citrus fruits and black radishes.

Historically, manufacturers have concentrated on synthetic packaging with plastic as the main material. But Verpackungszentrum Graz said the global problem of waste, which has led to a floating area of waste the size of Germany called the 'Great Pacific garbage patch', demands 'radical measures'.

"People like to eat organic produce and want that organic food to be packaged in a natural organic way. That is what our business does. Austria has been a leader of using organic material for a while and other European countries will, over time, catch up," Reichl said.

"In December we contacted several different supermarkets in Spain, Italy, Sweden and the U.K. and so we are looking to expand our supplies around Europe.

Reichl said she was interested in meeting more clients and representatives of European supermarket chains during Fruit Logistica, which would likely be a great place to further develop opportunities and make contacts.

"We have already sent some 100 meters of packaging to Sweden for instance, so we have some clients there who are interested in changing their packaging to a natural product," she said.

"Spain is also a very important market for us because, of course, it is a massive producer of fruit, especially citrus, so if Spain changes and begins to use organic packaging, it will be very significant."

Our coverage of Fruit Logistica Innovation Award nominees is based on a random selection of half the candidates and in no way indicates the potential winner.



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