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Fibre-based packaging could replace single-use plastics

COPAR, specialists in sustainable packaging solutions, believe wheat straw holds the key to helping bring single-use plastics to an end.

As the food and beverage industry continues to work towards new sustainability goals one of the biggest areas of focus has been around packaging.

As bans on single use plastics continue across the country many industries are eager to find alternative packaging solutions while also working towards greater sustainability, and COPAR is stepping in to help create a new option, fibre-based packaging.

COPAR specialises in developing sustainable packaging solutions and will soon launch its first Australian factory in Bathurst next year.

While fibre-based packaging itself is not a totally new idea, the use of wheat straw fibre-based packaging will be a first of its kind in Australia.

“We want to create awareness around the renewable capacity of fibre packaging, with wheat straw as an area of focus for us at the moment,” said Colin Farrell, director of business development for COPAR.

“Regulations are a big reason for the push towards new packaging solutions.

In Australia, both the Federal and State governments are addressing the plastic pollution crisis with both the National Plastics Plan and each state having their own action plans.  The main thing is to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics by 2025.

“All packaging must either be reusable, recyclable, or compostable.”

Fibre-based packaging, in this case using wheat straw, is all of these things.

“The idea is to re-purpose farmers’ agricultural waste by turning it into compostable packaging, which means it will naturally degrade in the environment with no microplastics, it is truly a circular product,” said Farrell.

“Circular economy is the hardest part to achieve and understanding it properly is critical.

“We believe there are nuances that you must adhere to, for example you can’t use fossil fuels to create the product because that is a finite resource and doesn’t qualify as a circular economy product. The small, but important details, can be the tricky part.”

Farrell said the company came across the wheat straw idea when they were tasked with helping a start-up source compostable packaging.

“From that basis we started to investigate that area and found the University of Newcastle has expertise in compostable plastics and packaging,” he said.

“So, we started our research and development there which then led to establishing our commercial and technology partners.

“For example, India has a great expertise in handling and using agricultural waste in terms of replacing problematic plastics. That led us to sourcing commercial partnerships in India with companies which provide great technology.”

The commercial partnerships were critical for COPAR, meanwhile, the sourcing of the wheat straw itself is not likely to present many problems and can create a new revenue stream for Australian farmers.

“We have an abundance of wheat straw in Australia,” said Farrell.

“After wheat is harvested, waste wheat straw remains, and can be used as a low-grade fertiliser. Now, farmers can use it to generate another revenue stream by allowing us to source it from them as our main ingredient to manufacture sustainable packaging.”

Another major benefit in being able to source the wheat straw locally is being able to avoid potential supply chain issues created by importing, especially post COVID-19.

“Currently in Australia, packaging is generally imported or manufactured from imported materials,” said Farrell

“We want to start a new industry with Australian farmers involved and a transparent supply chain. Our goal is to source all, or as much of the materials, as we can here in Australia.”

A big benefit to a local supply chain is that COPAR can track everything much more closely.

“We will be able to track every part of the supply chain which means clients will see that it is truly circular,” said Farrell.

“Wheat straw is in plentiful supply, and we think that will create a stable price.”

COPAR marketing specialist, Fathima Sameer, told Food & Beverage Industry News that the company would be focusing on key areas and markets for its innovative new packaging.

“For now, we are focused on fibre-based packaging, for the food industry, fresh produce, meat, and industrial packaging. Our aim is to make everything fully fibre based,” she said.

“In terms of markets, we are targeting hospitality, food, food distributors, food delivery, business to business companies that need packaging, that will also include stadiums where single use plastics are used often.

“The second one is horticulture and meat which is fresh produce and meat packaging.”

Sameer said COPAR’s fibre-based packaging would also employ anti-microbial technology.

“Our packaging products will come with anti-microbial layers to protect the product and extend the shelf life of the product. Our fibre-based packaging will give the same or better protection for the product. Those are our two primary markets for now,” she said.

While wheat straw is COPAR’s first area of focus, biomass as a whole will also be a continuing area for the company.

“It’s not just wheat straw and pulping, we can also look at other possibilities for customers because there are other sources of biomass,” said Farrell.

“They include hemp, which has great potential in terms of packaging, and even bamboo.

“These biomass products all have the great advantage, including that they are excess waste in agriculture where some farmers pay people to get rid of it, turning this into another revenue stream for farmers is a great thing.”

Farrell said the advantage for the agricultural sector could not be understated.

“Farmers already have the wheat, and they have a particular waste product which can create an additional revenue stream,” he added.

And recent disruptions to the supply chain are another area of improvement created by the new packaging approach.

“The other thing of course is manufacturing in Australia,” said Farrell.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic everyone has worked out you can’t rely on the world economy like we used to in terms of things like comparative advantage.

“There must be multiple companies that have been hurt by the supply chain crisis that we are currently in.”

Biomass is perfectly tailored for creating a circular economy because of the above factors.

“Having a new industry with new jobs, developments, and technologies as we grow this industry is a great way forward,” said Farrell.

“We will be looking into these types of product innovations going forward.

“We need a range of solutions, and we see wheat straw and other biomass, into the future, being a viable solution moving forward.”

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