Packaging up a perfect PhD in food waste

June 05, 2020

Researcher Ruby Chan joined the Fight Food Waste CRC as a PhD student through RMIT and she is already exploring innovative ways to use packaging more effectively to prevent waste.

Researcher Ruby Chan joined the Fight Food Waste CRC as a PhD student through RMIT and she is already exploring innovative ways to recycle packaging more effectively to prevent food waste.

While undertaking a Master’s degree in design innovation and technology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Chan designed single-use tableware and food containers from plant-based polymers and repurposed agricultural fibres such as corn husks, which are fully compostable after use.

The innovation holds an Australian patent.

“There’s a real tug-of-war going on around sustainability and packaging,” says Chan, adding that Australia has committed to sustainable packaging targets in 2025, and has also joined a global target to halve food waste by 2030.

“Packaging — including plastic packaging — has an important role to play in reducing food waste,” she says. While consumers often have a knee-jerk reaction against packaging, the greenhouse gas emissions from producing and distributing food are often higher than the impact of appropriate packaging solutions, adds Chan.

She says there’s a packaging impact see-saw where increased packaging results in less food waste, but you have to balance out the environmental impact. “When you get everything right [appropriate design and amount of packaging] then the packaging impacts are less than if the food was to go to waste.

“We need to educate the wider community to differentiate between types of packaging and understand their use and role in product protection, and also how to dispose of them properly.” 

Chan is scoping out her research at present, exploring the different packaging types found in supermarkets. “This includes resealable packaging, modified atmosphere packaging for meats and even packaging that regulates the exchange of gases to keep vegetables fresh,” she says, adding that access to a wide range of industries through the CRC makes it the ideal place to do this research.

FightFoodWasteCRC.com.au

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