Berlin - The Smart Materials research team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), led by Athanassia Athanassiou, in collaboration with Genoa’s Wholesale market management company (SGM), and Ascom Confcommercio, presented in Berlin a circular economy project aiming at converting leftover produce into 100% biodegradable plastic for production of eco-sustainable packaging for fruit and vegetables.
During a presentation entitled “The new life of fruits and vegetables - bioplastic packaging and circular economy”, in the Italian zone, IIT researcher Giovanni Perotto displayed the initial experimental product obtained from technologies patented by IIT in conjunction with the fruit and vegetables market in Genoa and Ascom. It consists of bioplastic packaging that replaces the traditional partitioned inner packaging used in fruit and vegetable crates to maintain produce quality. This type of packaging was made entirely by recycling leftover artichokes from Genoa’s wholesale produce market.
The problem of plastics pollution is currently the focus of many world governments. Every year in Europe 25.8 million tons of plastic waste are produced, 31% of which end up in landfills. As for plastic packaging, it is estimated that 95% of their value - between €70 and €105 billion a year - is lost due to their very short life cycle. These are some of the facts outlined in the EU report “A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy”, which emphasizes the importance of new strategies for the production of environmentally sustainable bioplastics.
In this context, researchers have developed different production processes that allow a total conversion of waste vegetable into bioplastics. The different processes range from the conversion of the vegetable into bioplastic through an aqueous process, to the preparation of composites (100% from sustainable sources), thermoplastics and thermoformables. These technologies allow the reduction of vegetable waste while obtaining a resource from such waste, and to cut-down on the use of non-biodegradable plastic derived from fossil fuels.
These prototypes of packaging materials form part of a circular economy project, whereby the surplus of the fruit and vegetable market is transformed into a product that can be used locally, and is easily biodegradable at its life’s end. The products made will in fact be reusable by those same wholesale operators in the fresh produce market associated with Fedagromercati Ascom Confcommercio, which are partners in this pilot project.
The project is part of the IIT research team’s efforts into smart materials. The facilities at IIT have, in fact, been developing 100% green solutions for a long time, seeking to convert waste from food production - or in this case from unsold produce - into new plastic material that is compostable and sustainable for the environment.
In order to turn this project - which had immediate support from the Municipality of Genoa and the Genoa Chamber of Commerce - into a concrete reality, during the Fruit Logistica event are made contact with various potential investors with the aim of forming a dedicated start up project, involving a wide network of structures, so as to allow a rapid scale-up of production and the marketing of these products.
Present at the presentation were Giancarlo Vinacci and Paola Bordilli, Genoa Councilors for Economic Development and Tourism and Trade, Stefano Franciolini, chairman at SGM, and Maurizio Caviglia, general secretary of the Genoa Chamber of Commerce.