Researchers from a team called the Composites and Hybrid Nanocomposites Group (GCNH) at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Ilha Solteira have developed an edible, anti-microbial, biodegradable plastic for food packaging use cases.

The plastic is composed of gelatin, clay and a nano-emulsion of black pepper oil. According to the developers, the type B, colorless bovine gelatin used in the making of the plastic demonstrated excellent film-forming properties. Meanwhile the cloisite Na+ nanoclay enhanced the plastic’s mechanical properties and vapor permeability, increasing the material’s tensile strength to roughly 70 megapascals (MPa). That is more than half of the tensile strength demonstrated by conventional polyethylene packaging, which demonstrates tensile strength in the range of 20 MPa to 30 MPa.

Source: São Paulo State UniversitySource: São Paulo State University

Further, the flavor and odor of the plastic material is improved with the addition of a nano-emulsion of black pepper essential oil. The combination of these ingredients, according to the researchers, results in a mix that reportedly features anti-microbial and anti-oxidant components in the polymeric matrix that help to extend the shelf life of the packaged food.

“If this kind of packaging becomes widespread in the marketplace, it could significantly reduce the use of plastic made from non-biodegradable polymers and hence the amount of solid waste,” the researchers explained. “In addition, the bioplastic will better protect packaged food against contamination by pathogens and help reduce losses.”

The article “Performance of gelatin films reinforced with cloisite Na+ and black pepper essential oil loaded nanoemulsion” appears in the journal Polymers.

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