A team of scientists at the Department of Science and Technology-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI) led by Dr. Blessie A. Basilia has come up with a biodegradable food packaging material that protects food and extends its shelf while being kind to the environment. This is made possible, according to Dr. Basilia, via the science called nanotechnology in which things are structured at the atomic and molecular levels.
The biodegradable film is made from starch and clay, both locally available materials, said Basilia who is chief of ITDI’s Material Sciences Division.
Clay comes in layers tightly held together, so it is processed first so that it can blend effectively with starch. In Basilia’s work, clay is treated with ions in a process called ion exchange which results in wider spaces between the layers of the clay. This treated clay is called organoclay or nanoclay, its commercial name.
Nanoclay is blended with thermoplastic starch made from cornstarch to help increase the latter’s strength. The clay-plastic blend goes through the same process and equipment in making petroleum-based plastics.
The resulting product passed the migration test required for packaging films which means that the materials in the product will not contaminate the food it is in contact with.
Plastic food packaging protects and extends shelf life of food and offers convenience to consumers. However, plastics are not biodegradable and pose harm to the environment. When disposed of indiscriminately, plastics clog waterways and contribute to flooding. Plastics that find their way to oceans cause serious harm to marine wildlife which mistake them for food.
Thus this DOST-developed green packaging technology will not only help address the disposal of food packaging wastes but will also benefit the packaging and plastic industries in the country.
Nanotechnology is one of DOST’s priority among emerging technologies through its sectoral council Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development which funded and monitored the project.
Biodegradable packaging and cutleries made from starch-clay can help address pollution brought about by petroleum-based plastics.