Bioplastic called Wheypack made from cheese waste

If there is one thing the Dutch, and thus Materia employees, love, it’s cheese. However, in the cheese making process, a byproduct called whey is produced. In Europe alone, the annual production of whey from cheese makers is 75 million tons. Most of the thin, milky fluid returns to the food chain for manufacturing other dairy products, but about 40% is discarded as a waste. Now, researchers in Spain and Portugal managed to make the first bioplastic called Wheypack from a cheese byproduct with a carbon footprint that is 35% smaller than with petroleum-based packages.

A material called polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is obtained by a microbial fermentation bioprocess of whey that is created during cheese production. This can be used to make a biodegradable packaging material that can be tailored to specific dairy products.

To create the bioplastic, the different types of whey from the production processes of different varieties of cheeses were identified and characterized. Those with the best aptitude for carrying out the fermentative bioprocess were then selected, and the research team applied bioproduction technologies to produce the PHB bioplastic.

The PHB bioplastic is completely biodegradable. According to the researchers, the PHB packaging will have the same features as packaging made of traditional petroleum-based plastic packages, but with a 35% smaller carbon footprint. Using the surplus of whey byproducts instead of purpose-grown crops as raw materials cut the polymer production costs by up to 50%.

The researchers are working on improving the PHB properties for use as a food packaging material that can be processed with the same technology as polypropylene-based material.

The research is part of the European project Life Wheypack. Another project that uses dairy to make bioplastic, you can find here.