Sustainability is a complex term which can involve the environmental footprint as well as the social or economic aspects of a product or production process. Wageningen University & Research carries out research into all these aspects, contract research institute Food & Biobased Research is specifically focused on research into environmental impact and cost effectiveness.

Packaging can reduce the environmental impact of packaged products at all stages of the lifecycle: from the production stage and transport to the use of the packaging and the waste stage. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research develops and studies sustainable packaging options at the individual stages and in the lifecycle as a whole.

Renewable raw materials

Packaging materials such as paper and cardboard as well as plastics can be made from green raw materials like trees, plants and (the residue of) agricultural crops, thereby contributing to a more sustainable use of raw materials. With biorefinery we can extract building blocks (such as sugars) from residual streams and crops such as maize stalks and sugar beets for biobased plastics. In this way almost all petroleum-based plastics can be ‘made’ biobased.

The challenge from an economic and environmental point of view, is to design biorefinery and production in such a way that it uses the same or smaller amounts of raw material and energy than a similar petroleum variety. In sustainability analyses we can research all these environmental aspects of packaging, from raw materials to the waste stage. Where possible we will close the chain: back to the raw material.

Behaviour in the production chain

The better the packaging performs in the entire production chain, the smaller the losses. It also prevents excess waste. Packaging can make or break the ‘performance’ of a product. Food & Biobased Research has many years of experience in fresh logistics.

Packaging plays a crucial role in the preservation of fresh food products before, during and after transport. We constantly work on innovations to extend the shelf life of fresh products, and prevent food wastage. To do so, we look at the entire production chain: can we achieve a better outcome with packaging or another basic material that reduces any losses during transport and storage, or can we extend the shelf life of a product with packaging? And we always ask: can these options be combined in a cost effective way?

Sustainable processing options: from waste to raw material

Once packaging is used it often loses its original function, ending up in the waste stream if direct reuse is not an option. Various processing options, from composting to recycling, can result in a more sustainable (re)use of packaging. Whether reuse is possible at all depends on local situations as well as the packaging material used and the absence of (food) residue.

We have extensive experience in designing materials with We have extensive experience in designing materials with specific reuse options within the production chain . If a material should be durable and strong, we develop a biobased material with robust properties rather than a biodegradable option. When choosing a material and reuse option, we include experiences from our consumer research: ideally the material is fine tuned to the way people usually throw it away.