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New biodegradable packaging is not only beneficial to the environment but also helps keep your strawberries, spinach and tomatoes fresh longer.

Researchers from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) is examining a way to produce food packaging from cellulose composites that would not turn to waste but rather degrade into a fertilizer.

This new development would assist in cutting down on packaging waste, while also reducing the number of food-borne illnesses.

“Food packaging is mainly made from various plastics, which are being produced from non-renewable sources and are non-biodegradable,” Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, a researcher at the KTU Department of Polymer Chemistry and Technology, said in a statement. “Also, it is not always possible to recycle them as leftovers from food amount to almost 50 percent of the packaging waste.”

By enriching the packaging material with active components it can help maintain freshness of food for longer.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 350,000 people die every year from food-borne illnesses, with 52,000 deaths caused by salmonella and 37,000 by the E. coli bacteria.

About 40 percent of deaths from food poisoning occur in children younger than five years old.

"Our goal was to create a biodegradable package, which could help to keep food fresh for longer, which could have anti-oxidizing or antimicrobial properties," Danilovas said.

Vesta Navikaitė-Snipaitienė, a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at KTU and one of the research team members, explained that by testing the efficiency of various ethereal oils when added to the cellulose-based film they could produce a better packaging.

"Active components of clove ethereal oil are very effective in tying free radicals; this oil proved efficient in enriching packaging with anti-oxidizing qualities. This effect helps to keep food fresh for longer but such a package is not antimicrobial," Navikaitė-Snipaitienė said in a statement.

Danilovas explained how silver is used to render the antimicrobial effect.

"To achieve antimicrobial effect, we added ionic silver particles to the cellulose based packaging,” Danilovas said. “The results we achieved were quite unexpected -- the silver particles made the packaging film more elastic and stronger.”

The film used is enriched with silver that inhibits the growth of microorganisms and its antimicrobial properties remain active for a long period of time.

"We are excited to have found composites, which not only allow cellulose to turn into fluid condition, but also are not toxic, which is very important in all products related to food handling," Danilovas said.

The modified cellulose packaging, which is being tested in a Lithuanian enterprise, degrades in nature in around two years.

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