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Think carefully about “green” packaging shelf life and biodegradability


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Biodegradable packaging may not be all it's cracked up to be, according to world food packaging expert, Dr Gordon L Robertson, who is also an adjunct professor at The University of Queensland.


Professor Robertson, author of a definitive textbook on food packaging entitled Food Packaging Principles and Practice, said few people working in the food and packaging industries had formal education in the area with the result that decisions were often based on intuition and/or trial and error.


He warned against being swept up in a rush to adopt new bio-based polymers such as PLA and PHA for food packaging without thoroughly investigating properties such as shelf life and biodegradability under normal conditions.


“It's no use having a biodegradable PLA water bottle for example that is going to start leaking its contents after a few weeks, which is what is happening right now to such bottles in New Zealand and the USA,” Professor Robertson said.


“These products only break down quickly under certain conditions as well. For example, a biodegradable PLA water bottle may take three to five years at 25°C to completely disintegrate and more than two months at 60°C.”


Professor Robertson said food packaging had become a kind of “poster boy” for environmental activism as it was the most “visible sign of waste” even though the environmental impacts from packaging were quite small and packaging actually prevented waste.


“A technical understanding of the functions and impacts of food packaging must be developed if we are to proceed with the sensible introduction of bio-based packaging,” he said.

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