Federal universities developed smart plastics for packaging: the material is biodegradable and changes colors to inform whether the product is proper for consumption

Two Brazilian Federal Universities have been working on developing technologies that may change how we use plastic for food packaging. Researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro have devised models still on embryo stage for plastics that change colors upon contact with organic material – they even may inform you if the expiration date is close or when the product is improper for human consumption.

Find out more about these Brazilian technologies.

Blueberry-made interactive plastic

The project developed by chemical engineer Cláudia Luchese started with the aim of making eco-friendly food packaging that could benefit from organic and affordable raw materials; therefore, biodegradable. And she found the solution by processing manioc and maize starch and by reusing waste from blueberry juice processing.

During interactive material manufacturing, starch found in manioc and maize became the basis to make plastic wrap – many bioplastics already use such substance as the main input. However, this idea came from the introduction of blueberry: a fruit rich in anthocyanins, a class of biochemical compounds that may change colors when submitted to different pH values.

“This capacity may provide consumers information, so that they know whether a specific food is proper for consumption or not,” explained Cláudia in an interview with portal G1. “So, as food changes pH while decaying, especially meat-derived products, the film changes to a blueish or yellowish shade.”

In the third stage of the project, conducted at the University of the Basque Country (Spain), a third feature of this technology was discovered: packaging can extend food shelf life. Now, in its last stage, the material economic feasibility is under analysis.

Plasticor (Plasticolor), technology-made plastic that changes colors

At the Xerém campus of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), in the city of Duque de Caxias, the project Plasticor emerged, evolved and was awarded. At a hackathon, an entrepreneurship event conducted by students and Sebrae, a group of students devised the bioplastic that is also able to change colors by coming into contact with food and then inform whether the product is proper for consumption.

“Our packaging is eco-friendly. It does not make use of chemical additives nor takes years to decay,” explains João Vítor Balbino, one of the seven students involved in the startup that develops this work. Students estimate that Plasticor completes its decay process within six months – much less than conventional plastics, which takes up to five centuries.

The proposal is that the new plastic may be used in two ways: either wrapping products for final sale or in form of strips so that customers may check the food expiration date. And, according to newspaper Extra, Simapan (Food Union of Rio de Janeiro) has supported this technology, with the estimation of reducing food waste by 80%.

“Store owners contacted Simapan because products were rotting in their shelves,” said Henrique Seita, president of the union, to Extra. “This indication by color will also prevent product waste because of expiration date. Store owners can easily see the real status of the product,” he said.

Content published in July 31, 2019

What Braskem is doing about it?

The use of plastic for sustainable development is one of Braskem’s goals. Through its startup acceleration program, Braskem Labs, the company develops technological, innovative, and sustainable alternatives for the use of these materials and even their application in the food industry. The 2018 edition of Braskem Labs supports the startups Intelligent Food (which develops a process that increases the expiry date of food without resorting to conservatives or chemical additives, maintaining its original characteristics and excluding the need for refrigeration) and Nanometallis (which develops a technological PVC with functionalized nanoparticles with fungicide and bactericide function, which increase the shelf-life of  industrialized, processed, and in natura foods, reducing waste and contributing to better public and food health).

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