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Wheat straw proves to be viable packaging option

Wheat straw proves to be viable packaging option

Fibre-based packaging continues to grow in popularity in the food and beverage industry, but the emergence of wheat straw is creating another viable option.

Fibre-based packaging, from hemp, to bamboo, and paper, have all found a place within the food and beverage industry because they provide a more environmentally friendly options to traditional packaging.

COPAR business development manager, Colin Farrell, said wheat straw was providing a more economically, and environmentally friendly, option in the fibre-based packaging space.

“Wheat straw is plentiful and at the moment is basically being left on the ground by farmers,” he said.

For example, sugarcane is another material used in the production of fibre-based packaging but there is one inherent problem with sugarcane, it’s also used in the production of ethanol.

“We investigated sugarcane as an option but because it’s sold and used for other purposes it is an expensive resource to maintain,” said Farrell.

“In essence, that’s what is making us attractive, we are one coming on with the new style and with Australia being a big wheat provider, it is a perfect market for it.”

“The economics of it are much more attractive because there won’t be shortage of raw materials. Particularly in times of price inflation. I think for paper packaging prices are also increasing year over year.”

The rising price of timber has also had a similar impact on any packaging that uses wood, or a wood blend.

“The wheat straw is already being left on the ground by the farmers, and that will always happen, so there will be plentiful supply and it should create stable prices,” Farrell added.

“In terms of wheat straw sampling, it has been proven to work but there’s lots of little nuances companies need for products.”

These nuances mean COPAR is constantly looking to innovate and evolve its product offerings.

“We are looking at antimicrobial treatments to ensure its bacteria proof and will be testing for oil and water resistance.  Typically, binding chemicals that contain high levels PFAS are used. We now have two options for possible alternatives, with testing underway at the University of Newcastle and overseas to ensure that our PFAS levels are well below that required of internationally certified compostable standards,” said Farrell.

“Those PFAS chemicals help bind the product together, but there is some toxicity to that, and it has been around for many years. It’s in lots of packaging and we are working hard to eliminate that, particularly from food contact packaging.”

PFAS chemicals, also known as ‘forever chemicals’, and make up a complex group of manufacturing chemicals used in various food and beverage products, among others.

“It’s a big problem if you are going to use recycled paperboard or cardboard because it might already have PFAS content within it that creates an opportunity for us because we believe wheat straw is in a great position to have a very low PFAS related product,” said Farrell.

“That’s where the combination comes through, we are making our packaging our way. Yes, we will be using wheat straw, but we have a research and development partnership with the University of Newcastle where we are looking at grape marc, hemp, and a range of other options so that our products improve as time goes on.”

COPAR was present at the London Packaging Week as part of its push to get greater exposure for the benefits of wheat straw fibre-based packaging.

Feedback from an earlier expo, held in Birmingham, encouraged COPAR to have a greater presence at the packaging week.

“London Packaging Week is a great opportunity for us,” said Farrell.

“Fibre based packaging was gaining a lot of attention at other trade shows so we thought it was the ideal time to get involved with the London Packaging Week to follow up on the leads and other technology providers who will help us evolve our products for better quality, because you have to continually evolve.

“These trade shows are always well attended and it’s our first foray into it.  We are making sure the COPAR CEO will be there to explain where we are as we push to the start of commercial production next year.”

Farrell said the initial success of fibre-base packaging, including wheat straw, in India had given COPAR the impetus to support the adoption of the alternative packaging.

“This technology has generally been developed in India for that market and we believe it’s suitable for wheat straw packaging.   It is a great combination as we have bountiful supplies of wheat straw in Australia, which is one of the reasons why we are bringing it here,” said Farrell.

“From my impressions and speaking with our Indian partners, in terms of a plastic ban, and removing plastic, they started to get on that road a lot earlier than the rest of the world did. They looked in fibre based, paper-based options.”

In addition to adopting Australian wheat-straw for fibre-based packaging, COPAR’s focus is on investigating a range of other biomass sourced from Australia with researchers from the University of Newcastle.

“Grape marc is another one that we are researching, hemp is another,” said Farrell.

“The one that is used most widely is paper, then sugarcane and now we are moving into wheat straw.

“Wheat straw is just the most economically viable and has other capabilities against paper. Paper is compostable but it takes a long time while wheat straw we believe has the capability to compost quicker.”

It’s also hoped more compostable fibre-based packaging will also help reduce the environmental impact of ready to eat meals and single use meal packaging, which has become increasingly popular to the consumer market.

“Ready to eat meals and take away eating have both increased and a reliance on food delivery has grown and that doesn’t seem to be abating, so a range of packaging solutions that are better for the environment and the providers is critical,” added Farrell.

“We can’t have the environmental problems of using plastics.”