Slippery packaging aims to cut food waste

Food left behind in plastic packaging contributes millions of pounds of food waste. New super slippery packaging is now seeking to make it easier to squeeze those last bits out of the tube.

The frustration of trying to squeeze the last drop of sauce out of a tube or packet is not only tiresome. Instead, the food left behind in plastic packaging contributes millions of pounds of food waste every year.

These incremental amounts of sticky foods like condiments, dairy products, beverages, and some meat products that remain trapped in their packaging can add up to big numbers, even for a single household.

Now, researchers at Virginia Tech are aiming to reduce that waste with a novel super slippery industrial packaging. They have already submitted a provisional patent for their innovation, which wicks chemically compatible vegetable oils into the surfaces of common extruded plastics to help sticky foods release from their packaging.

It can be applied to inexpensive and readily available plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are the among the easiest to recycle, explained the researchers in a statement.

“Previous SLIPS, or slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces, have been made using silicon- or fluorine-based polymers, which are very expensive,” explained lead author Ranit Mukherjee in the statement. “But we can make our SLIPS out of these hydrocarbon-based polymers, which are widely applicable to everyday packaged products.”

First created by Harvard University researchers in 2011, SLIPS are porous surfaces or absorbent polymers that can hold a chemically compatible oil within their surfaces via the process of wicking. In order to hold oils, the surfaces must have some sort of nano- or micro-roughness.

Roughness is not required with the new method, however. Instead, it deploys oils that are naturally compatible with the plastics and wick into it.

In addition to minimizing food waste, other benefits to the improved design include consumer safety and comfort, according to the statement.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart/ CC BY 2.0

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