Could packaging made from whey, isabgol & lotus be the new biodegradable 'plastic'?

The film is transparent and clear, making it a great alternative to shopping bags for consumers.

Indian researchers from Punjab have invented a new biodegradable film using starch from lotus stems, whey protein and psyllium husk (Isabgol).

Starch is one of the most important bulking agents in plant-based engineering for its high volume and renewable nature, available at a low cost.

However, films made of starch alone aren't structurally strong and tend to get brittle as the water vapour content in starch evaporates. But researchers at the Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering & Technology in Punjab added some whey protein and isabgol to the mix to engineer what could be the next alternative to plastic packaging.

Compostable starch shopping bags looking rad and functional. Image cuortesy: NZBagIt.org

Compostable starch shopping bags looking rad and functional. Image courtesy: NZBagIt.org

Lotus stem, when it isn't being cut up and served as a vegan delicacy, can make an excellent source of starch. Up to 20 percent of a lotus stem's weight is starch.

With some tweaking and additives, starch can be given better texture, strength and form than it naturally has. Researchers made two such modifications to lotus starch: some oxidation and cross-linking for better texture and strength respectively.

Whey is a protein source and by-product of cheese-making in the dairy industry. Molecules of whey can cross-link with starch to make it a stronger, continuous film. Isabgol made from the husk of wheat has a viscous, gelatinous consistency when heated, giving the film transparency and texture.

Meat is one of the hardest foods to package without plastic. Flickr

Meat is one of the hardest foods to package without plastic. Flickr

To minimize the use of petroleum-based plastics, more resources have been invested in finding biodegradable alternatives to packaging. Natural plant-based polymers that repurpose industry waste are a winning trifecta for the environment.

The film is white and clear, making them a great alternative to shopping bags for consumers. Biodegradable films are also very useful for packaging food wraps, capsules, probiotic coatings, drug delivery systems and edible packaging.

The study was published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

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