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Seaweed-based wrapper a fast-food rubbish solution

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Burger, partially unwrapped
A new seaweed biopolymer developed in Australia offers an alternative to fossil fuel-based grease-proof coatings for food wrappers. Photo by Kirsty TG on Unsplash

A new grease-resistant coating for use on fast-food wrappers could soon be provided by seaweed, rather than fossil-bassed plastics.

This follows new research from materials scientists at Flinders University in South Australia, and German biomaterials developer one • fıve. The development was announced in a media release from Flinders University.

The seaweed biopolymer coating provides a non-pollutive alternative to the current coatings, which create a packaging waste dilemma for the fast-food industry. Grease-resistant paper is typically coated with plastic and other environmentally harmful chemicals, such as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The new prototype coating meets the functional requirements of conventional grease-resistant packaging materials while also offering an environmentally circular solution.

The result represents a landmark achievement, creating a next-generation sustainable and ecologically responsible biopolymer.

“We are able to reduce harmful plastic pollution with this product, and we are also using feedstock that is environmentally regenerative,” says Claire Gusko, one • fıve Co-Founder. “Seaweed cultivation helps to naturally rehabilitate marine environments, reduce greenhouse gases, and mitigate coastal erosion. It’s important for us to use sustainable inputs upstream to ensure our products are environmentally safe, from cradle to grave.” This development has been led by Dr Zhongfan Jia, a lead researcher from the Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and research colleague Mr Peng Su in association with the Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development.

Three men at a laboratory work bench, with the man in the right foreground applying a coating to a sheet of brown paper.
Flinders University researchers from left, Peng Su, Chanaka Mudugamuwa and Dr Zhongfan Jia testing the seaweed biopolymer coating for potential use on food wrappers. Photo: Flinders University.

They have used commercially available extracts from brown seaweeds similar to many growing in Australian waters, adding modifications to form degradable bioplastic films. “The seaweed extracts have a similar structure to the natural fibres from which paper is made,” says Dr Jia. “Our novel specialist treatments boost the grease-resistance feature of the seaweed via simple modifications while not affecting biodegradability nor recyclability of the coated paper.”

These extracts are transformed through a proprietary processing methodology to produce functional biopolymer sheets that can be cut or coated onto various surfaces, depending on the application. Flinders University and one • fıve are now working towards transferring laboratory-scale processing to produce industrially-relevant volumes of the natural polymer coating. This initiative aims to have a transformative impact on the global packaging and plastics industry by significantly reducing reliance on highly pollutive conventional plastic.

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