Tweed Bait has partnered with The University of Queensland (UQ) to develop a new range of fully marine biodegradable film packaging for fish baits. With increasing awareness on ocean plastic pollution and its impact on the environment, there is a strong push to move away from petroleum-based plastics and develop environmentally safe solutions. The material being developed by the research team at UQ is a novel biosourced material that can safely biodegrade in soil and in the ocean.
Tweed Bait is the largest bait wholesaler in Australia, and despite being determined to stop using petroleum-based plastic, there are currently no existing film products that can meet the desired requirements for a sustainable packaging material. The main challenge is that the films need to be completely water-resistant for storing fish baits, but at their end-of-life would then need to degrade in sea water if it inadvertently ended up in the ocean. These two alone, appear to be conflicting requirements. Existing solutions based on starch, cellulose or similar plant-based materials will dissolve when in first contact with water, which makes them unsuitable for packaging fish bait.
The research team at UQ (Dr. Céline Chaléat, School of Chemical Engineering) has been working with new types of bioplastics, including polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). PHAs are obtained from naturally occurring bacterial fermentation of organic waste stream operated at a commercial scale. After being extracted from the bacteria, PHA can be processed just like conventional plastics and it is also fully water-resistant. Only when PHA is in contact with certain types of bacteria (naturally present in soil and in the ocean); will it start to be ‘eaten’ by these microorganisms, causing it to fully biodegrade. However, further developments are required to improve PHA’s mechanical properties and processability for manufacturing into films.
The project will focus on developing new material formulations specifically designed to meet Tweed Bait’s requirements. These include processability into films, appearance, mechanical performance, resistance to -30 °C (when baits are frozen), and end-of-life biodegradability. Manufacturing of the films and mechanical testing under various conditions will be performed at UQ’s Materials Testing Facility. Real-life biodegradation studies will be conducted by placing newly developed film products in soil and in the ocean at UQ’s soil and marine stations across different locations in the Brisbane region, over a period of at least 6 months.
This initiative is co-funded by the Australian Government’s Innovation Connections Scheme until late 2022. It is expected that the outcomes from this project will provide new insights for manufacturing of biodegradable film and create a path to fast-track commercialization of these new products.