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PHAs & Other Environmentally Friendly Food Packaging

For brands and businesses, the search is on for packaging that is as convenient and affordable as plastic but does not pose the same adverse effects to the atmosphere. In order to achieve its goal of zero plastic waste by 2030, the Prime Minister of Canada announced on October 7, 2020 a federal ban on harmful single use plastics, which will be finalized by the end of 2021. This will especially apply to those plastic products that go unrecycled andpose a serious threat to the environment.

PHAs (Polyhyroxyalkanoates) are bio derived (made from organic sources), biodegradable polymers which are being researched as an environmentally friendly alternative to packaging. They are produced by the bacterial fermentation of bio-derived feedstock, including waste. PHAs come with a wide range of properties in terms of renewability, biodegradability, and water vapor barrier, which allows for them to have various different applications one of which is food packaging.(2)

There are three different methods through which PHAs can be produced; microbiological, chemical and enzymatic. The microbiological route has proven to be the most feasible so far followed by the chemical, with enzymatic method being the least suitable. The cost of producing PHAs is still considerably high at the moment and continuous research is required for it to become a widely acceptable alternative to plastic packaging.(3)

Some other eco-friendly food packaging which is recyclable and compostable, that is currently present in the market is as follows;

· Metal containers

· Glass containers

· Kraft paper packaging (made from wood pulp)

· PET plastic (non-toxic , strong and recyclable)

· Recycled cardboard and paper packaging

· Packaging made with cornstarch and sugarcane fiber. (4)

PHA-based films and other environmentally friendly food packaging has generated a lot of interest within the food industry looking to reduce their carbon foot-print. But how easy is this switch when it comes to the bigger picture? One downside is that it can be expensive for businesses; especially small businesses to swap their packaging with green alternatives. It can leead to cost savings in the long run but there is still ambiguity in how long that will take.(5)

Bio degradable and recyclable packaging also has to be disposed of correctly; otherwise there can be cross contamination. Certain take out boxes and paper cups are lined with a chemical called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to prevent our food and drinks from leaking. A study showed that PFAs can leech out of the packaging and end in compost. This can accumulate in plants and end up in our bodies. Research is still ongoing for the medical risks of PFAs.(6)

*TekPak solutions, Eco-Packaging, Rootree, Hubert are some companies in Ontario providing eco-friendly packaging.

Written by: Hibba Nawaz, Dietetic Intern


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