Food Waste : Tensei converts biowaste into paper packaging

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The UK based biotech company renders agricultural residue such apple skins, avocado peels and mango pips into paper packaging.

Food waste has been a global issue for some time.

Each year, about one third of food produced for consumption-approximately 1,3 billion tonnes-gets wasted on an annual basis.

40-50% of disposed food waste is derived from root crops, fruits and vegetables.

It takes the form of peels, seeds, stones, unused flesh, discarded stalks, leaves and roots, either left over from the food processing stage or generated during the crop planting season. Much of it ends up on landfills or gets discharged into the environment.

Yet these food by products may not only be transformed into bioenergy but are also veritable protein treasure troves, something the food manufacturing industry is slowly coming to understand.

For Tensei, inherent potential of said agricultural residue translates into the generation of plastic and woodfree packaging.

The company considers its technology both ‘disruptive’ as well as ‘essential’, considering the demand for coupled with the scarcity of raw materials such as wood pulp. It also prides itself on providing farmers and industry with an additional revenue stream coming from plant fibres and biowaste.

The benefits for manufacturers willing to adopt this form of packaging are also numerous, ranging from not having to pay a plastic tax for their flexible packaging to being able to offer consumers fresh produce with a shelf life that can compete with products wrapped in conventional virgin plastics.

An example for the latter saw Tensei team up with UK retailer Morrisons and national soft fruit co-operative Berry Gardens Ltd to replace the plastic pads in 150,000 raspberry punnets. The company estimated that its plastic free pads (‘F_pads’), rendered from crop waste and grasses rather than virgin wood, helped save 12 tennis courts worth of plastic and wood pulp.

“It was great for Morrisons to be able to communicate a recycling initiative to their customers in this way. You’ve always been able to put the punnet into the plastic recycling. And now the paper pad can go into the paper stream- this couldn’t be done before. The little paper pap wasn’t recyclable-it was single use”, Tensei CEO Anabelle Cox said.

She stressed the fact that Tensei’s patented packaging improved on shelf life when trialled against different verities of fruit but also conceded that the bespoke packaging comes at a higher price point than that of virgin plastic. Cox argued, however, that this detrimental factor needed to be set against the overall sustainability of the product as well as its capability of rendering a plastic tax moot.

Tensei intends to normalise the use of agricultural residue for packaging purposes, the intention being to tackle the deforestation crisis connected to single use plastic manufacturing.

The company is also testing its F_pads in bakery and meat applications.

Currently, Tensei is developing an alternative to greaseproof, consisting of lightweight paper sourced from crop waste as well as testing laminated paper in the hope of manufacturing crisp and nut packets that are home compostable.