Food processors and manufacturers have long been urged to take greater responsibility for the environment. Unbiodegradable food packaging for example has proved to be a huge litter problem, and even a health risk in certain circumstances.
Pressured by growing consumer awareness, many companies have started to look at ecologically sound solutions. Cadbury Schweppes Australia for example is to package its new range of Milk Tray chocolates in environmentally friendly plastic. The material, developed by packaging firm Plantic Technologies, has been developed from non-genetically modified corn, a substance that is biodegradable and non-toxic.
Plantic says that its trays, which look and feel just like normal plastic, biodegrade as quickly and effectively as any household leftover food-scraps.The trays can be deposited in compost bins or worm farms at home, or can even be buried. This is the beauty of biodegradable packaging - it is better for the environment, and it often has knock-on benefits for consumers.
Plantic materials dissolve on contact with water and are totally biodegradable. Because of this, they take up considerably less rubbish volume, especially when compared to conventional plastics. These materials, which are derived from petrochemical sources, can take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade.
Another benefits of using Plantic material is that its source - the growing of corn to make starch - is of course renewable and sustainable. The company says that it takes less than a cob of maize to make one tray, and the type of maize used is the same type that is used in foods such as bread and pasta.
The market for environmentally-friendly packaging is growing as the public at large becomes more aware of their power as consumers to force change. There are obvious benefits for food manufacturers - and packaging firms - to take heed. Plantic Technologies for example is already reaping the reward of its latest innovation, having already been the recipient of an Ecorecycle Victoria Sustainable Packaging Award and a Cryovac Innovation Award at the recent Australian Packaging Awards.
It is also likely that other confectioners will follow Cadbury's lead in adopting at packaging alternatives that are kinder to the environment, and show that global food corporations listen to public concerns.
Plantic's packaging innovation was developed by Australia's Co-operative Research Centre for International Food Manufacturing and Packaging Science. The key partners during the seven year development phase was CSIRO's Division of Manufacturing Science, the University of Queensland's Department of Chemical Engineering and Swinburne University's Centre for Applied Colloid and BioColloid Science.
The laboratory at Swinburne University specialises in the testing of biodegradable materials and compost which includes tests for toxicity, heavy metals and the rate of degradation in compost and landfill environments.