Ketchup Slips Smoothly from These Packets, Reducing Food and Plastics Waste

by | Aug 6, 2018

A new method for making food packaging more “slippery” could help cut food and plastic waste, researchers say. According to a study in Scientific Reports (via New Food Magazine), a technique that involves wicking chemically compatible vegetable oils into the surface of common extruded plastics – like the small packets of ketchup and mayonnaise offered at fast food restaurants – allows food to be released more easily.

Researchers from Virginia Tech who developed the patent-pending process say the technique will cut down on the million pounds of food thrown away each year.

Packets for food like ketchup are generally made larger than they need to be because food packagers expect that users will only get about 70% of the product out – so they pump more product into larger packages so users get the amount they need. If food slides from the packaging more easily, packets could be smaller, reducing the plastic footprint, according to an article from Inverse.


A Cheaper Solution for Slippery Plastics

Previous slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces have been created using silicon- or fluorine-based polymers, which are expensive. The process from Virginia Tech researchers uses hydrocarbon-based polymers, which are cheap and in high demand. They are also “widely applicable to everyday packaged products,” says doctoral student Ranit Mukherjee, the study’s lead author.

The technique can be applied to packaging made from inexpensive plastic like polyethylene and polypropylene. Natural oils like cottonseed are used so there are no health concerns, researchers say.

This more affordable solution, which could reduce the size of packets, may have a big impact on the global plastics issue. Heinz Ketchup, for example, produces around 11.5 billion ketchup packets per year, Inverse writes.

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