• At UC’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, Dr Alex Yip is leading research into food waste conversion. Photo credit: The University of CanterburyAt UC’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, Dr Alex Yip is leading research into food waste conversion. Photo credit: The University of Canterbury

The University of Canterbury engineers turning food waste into bioplastics

Researchers at the University of Canterbury are working on an ingenious new solution to turn food waste into valuable chemical components that could be used to make bioplastics.

At UC’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, Dr Alex Yip is leading research into food waste conversion, and says: “The ultimate objective is to produce a high-value product from food waste. To date, we have completed a proof-of-concept showing that it’s feasible.”

The project’s goal is to extract three key chemical components, including polylactic acid (PLA) and the organic compound 5-HMF, from the food-waste-stream. These could then be used as building blocks to make sustainable bioplastics with various properties to suit consumer needs.

Converting food waste into bioplastics would have dual benefits of lowering greenhouse gas emissions (produced by food rotting in landfill) while also reducing the amount of non-biodegradable plastics going into landfills. Bioplastics produced from food waste would be 100% recyclable or fully biodegradable, and could be used for products such as biodegradable bin-liners.

The research would be a pioneering breakthrough for catalytic conversion of food waste for this purpose, with the long-term objective of scaling-up the process for commercial application.

We look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of this research in the future.

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