There is a growing demand on reducing plastic food packaging. Over 60% of the European consumers regard cellulose fiber-based materials like paper and board as “greener” alternatives.
However, fiber- based materials have poorer barrier properties than plastics. Thus, the paper or board is typically covered by a thin plastic layer to improve the barrier properties and make it more suitable for food packaging applications. Nevertheless, such coating will often negatively affect the material’s recyclability, as it is difficult to separate the plastic layer and the cellulose fibers.
Even if the fibers get recycled, they can seldom be used as food contact materials again, because they may contain harmful chemicals from various sources, like printing inks, as well as off-odors. The original high-quality cellulose fibers have to be downgraded and used for lower-value applications after recycling, a process called downcycling. Downcycling does not contribute to an optimal circular use of the resources but delays the linear flow of resources from production to waste .
In ReFiber-Pack, we will develop recyclable food packaging based on recycled cellulose fibers and new removable barrier layers.
We will verify the new packaging solution’s suitability for selected food products, evaluate the effects on food quality and shelf-life, recyclability, as well as the environmental impact. It is also important to understand the consumer’s acceptance of this new packaging solution, as well as develop effective ways of communication to promote the separation of the barrier layers and fiber materials by the consumers.
This new solution will enable the use of recycled fibers for high-value food packaging applications without compromising their recyclability, and thereby contribute to achieving Norway’s circular economy target.
In ReFiber-Pack, the partners (2 research institutes & 5 industrial actors) will develop innovative and recyclable food contact packaging solutions based on recycled cellulose fibers and removable barriers. The new solutions developed in ReFiber-Pack will enable the use of recycled fibers for high-value applications without compromising their recyclability, and thereby contribute to achieving Norway’s circular economy target.
ReFiber-Pack includes defining suitable substrates based on recycled fibers for food contact use, with focuses on their sources, level of contaminants, and mechanical properties; developing barrier laminates based on polysaccharides and thermoplastic polymers with suitable barrier properties, and to limit the migration of harmful substances from the substrates; developing methods to coat the barrier laminates on the substrates with adequate adhesion to ensure the materials’ integrity during their use and the detachment of the barrier laminates after use; developing methods to convert the coated 2D materials to 3D food packaging using commercial packaging machines, without deteriorating their thermal, mechanical, and barrier properties; verifying the new packaging’s suitability for selected food, evaluating their effects on food quality, their recyclability, and consumers’ acceptance; developing communication measures to promote the separation of the barriers and substrates by the consumers to facilitate recycling, and the environmental impact of the new solutions.
The partners have complementary skills in natural science, social science, industrial design/production, and business development/administration, all of which are necessary for the ReFiber-Pack’s success. Our strength is that the activities will be implemented by cross-sector partners, which ensures the development of interdisciplinary knowledge and creation of impactful outcomes that can be exploited by the scientific community, industry, and general public.