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The Project

The EcoPackLab project aims to create a sustainable and innovative packaging system for quality improvement of packed food during its storage. The project makes use of both University of Bologna laboratories and industrial supply chains, by means of an integrated and interdisciplinary approach on quality, safety, sustainability and logistics efficiency, that takes advantages of integrated and complementary knowledge in the various aspects of the food packaging area.

The replacement of oil-based materials by eco-friendly solutions (derived from renewable resources, biodegradable, compostable) is attracting much interest in the food industry packaging. However, although such goal is largely agreed due to environmental and social needs, this substitution is hindered by several factors:

  • the economic constrain that new materials should be processed by the same industrial utilities and systems, currently used for the production of traditional packaging;
  • the requirement that novel eco-friendly materials have to maintain the performances of traditional ones, offering at the same time a better environmental compatibility;
  • the need of a low manufacturing costs for new materials, which also has to be easy to supply and sustainable.

All these constraints have significantly limited the production of eco-friendly polymers suitable as food packaging materials.

Another key aspect is related to the production of active packaging solutions that can contribute to reduce the microorganisms growth and/or other kinds of deteriorative phenomena in foods, thus reducing and/or avoiding the use of preservatives in their formulations.

EcoPackLab aims to create a sustainable and innovative packaging system for quality improvement of packed food during its shelf-life. The project makes use of both University of Bologna laboratories and industrial supply chains, by means of an integrated and interdisciplinary approach on quality, safety, sustainability and logistics efficiency, that takes advantages of integrated and complementary knowledge in the various aspects of the food packaging area.

The plurality of skills in EcoPackLab will also promote and improve the professional qualification of the team of young researchers involved.

Objectives

  • Creation of a pilot laboratory "network" for the design and production of new active and eco-friendly packaging for the food industry, with pre-industrial validation.
    The main facility will be implemented as a prototype industrial-machine, and it will be used for the fabrication of innovative multilayer flexible films. The laboratory may also use machines made by the companies partners of the project. Thanks to these synergies, it will be possible to investigate the performances of the new packaging directly on industrial machines, also following the company requirements.
  • Creation of new flexible active packaging for the food industry, activated by: active molecules (eg. antimicrobial essential oils) incorporated into the multilayer film, and enzymes with antimicrobial and/or antioxidant activity, immobilized on the film surface.
  • Development of sensors for in-line measurements of enzymes amount and activity within the film.
  • Application of cold plasma advanced technology to promote the adhesion of multi-layer flexible films, in place of synthetic adhesives and primers.
  • Improvement of stability, quality characteristics and shelf-life extension of foods packed in the new active packaging solutions, thus reducing and/or avoiding the use of preservatives in their formulations.
  • Improvement of logistics efficiency: reduction of costs and environmental impact of realized packaging.

Results

The outcomes of the project are the implementation of demonstrators and technological solutions able to obtain a novel eco-compatible and active food packaging solution, characterized by performances able to increase stability, quality and prolong shelf-life of selected food products, while minimizing use of food preservatives and processing. Consequently, a benefit on reduction of food waste and losses is expected.

The prototype machine will be able to produce films that may be tested by involved companies, through their own equipment.

Partner companies may validate the new eco-friendly packaging solutions, in their industrial production. Obtained feedback will be used for improvement and optimization actions.

The main output of this project will be the fabrication of a sustainable package system, thanks to the collaboration between research and industry. This project will contribute also to the growth of new technical and professional skills in a perfect synergy between these two areas. 

The project is fully integrated in the food production system of the Emilia-Romagna Region, including many related processing and economic activities (production of plastic materials and containers, food packaging machines and equipment; activities related to food logistics).