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Seaweed replaces plastic in grease-resistant fast-food packaging

Seaweed extracts are being used to develop next-generation biopolymer coating materials to replace fossil-based plastic coatings used in grease-resistant fast-food packaging.

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Grease-resistant paper is typically coated with plastic and other chemicals including as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The new prototype coating developed by Flinders University materials researchers in Australia and German biomaterials developer one • fıve is said to meet the functional requirements of conventional grease-resistant packaging materials while also presenting an environmentally circular solution.

“We are able to reduce harmful plastic pollution with this product, and we are also using feedstock that is environmentally regenerative,” said 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 – which took extracts from certain seaweeds, added modifications and formed degradable bioplastic films – has been led by Dr Zhongfan Jia, a lead researcher from the Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology in and research colleague Mr Peng Su in association with the Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development.

“The seaweed extracts have a similar structure to the natural fibres from which paper is made,” Dr Jia said in a statement. “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.”

According to Flinders, biomass for the new coating formulation is made from natural polymers extracted from seaweeds that are native to the South Australian coastline. These extracts are transformed through a proprietary processing method 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.